When I Was Done Dying

While most everyone became rather obsessed with the Adult Swim short “Too Many Cooks”, it was the quasi-follow up “Unedited Footage Of A Bear” that resonated with me more, It’s considerably more nightmarish: a pharmaceutical ad that goes completely off the rails and never considers coming back.

A stand-out part of this was because of Dan Deacon’s excellent – and unnerving – music. I wasn’t a fan previously, I did check out his most recent release, Gliss Riffer, and became more than a little obsessed with his 3/4 time metaphysical sea shanty, “When I Was Done Dying”.

Adult Swim, being the sort of people who will bring strange things to life, assembled the Off The Air team and put together a video for it, which is about as fitting as it gets.

2014 In Words

“It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”

So offered Facebook repeatedly over the last week, as various friends clicked/tapped the “Auto-generate my year in review, please” call to action. Everyone in their respective social networks were treated to a algorithmically generated review of the pictures they chose to upload and the life events they allowed Facebook to ingest.

I have never been much for the programmatic, and while I appreciate the visual nature of Facebook (and I’ll do my own, hand-selected photos post not long after I write this one), I still enjoy the dying art of writing a blog post about what happened in a given year.

I’ll remember 2014 for a few things, but mostly the exhausting emotional toll that enveloped the world. From the Ebola scare, to Ferguson, to the current behavior of the NYPD, to the respective NFL and NBA scandals, to the hand-wringing about a Franco/Rogen film, it’s just been a complete wear to read the news and try to feel some level of optimism about, well, anything.

At a more personal level, a few things stand out:

2014 was the year we went full cocktail nerd, after years of dabbling. Our obsession with spending Friday night at The Dead Rabbit got us to what Jack has referred to as “super-regular” status. (Also quoting Jack: “You guys are family. You know the drinks better than I do now.”)

We have branched out to other bars as recommendations floated by and friends moved between bars. Attaboy, Underdog, Distilled, Bachanal, and Mother’s Ruin have all earned pushpins on my mental map of NYC. We also went to Speed Rack 4, which was incredible.

Conversely, it was not a year where we tried a ton of new restaurants. Marta was decent, Little Park was impressive, and I’m appreciative that Hudson Eats opened to give us a lot of decent options for takeaway dinners. But by and large, we were still at the usual spots constantly. (I did finally get to try Prosperity Dumpling, which is mind-blowing.)

At the day job, two radical changes at the end of 2013 (one planned, one less so) made 2014 a very different year in terms of my focus. My team has grown significantly, and we transitioned from The Old Way Of Doing Things to The New Way Of Doing Things close to seamlessly enough to make me happy.

It being a World Cup year, soccer activities took over my life far more than I would normally expect. My final count for actual watched games this year: 16 league games, 4 playoff games, 1 national team game, 2 Champions League games, 1 All-Star game, 3 friendlies. (That’s a troubling 40.5 hours of professional soccer watched live.) I also played in two media games, made too many podcast appearances to count (and one TV appearance), and churned out 81 posts on Gothamist.

Unsurprisingly, after that much soccer, I’m a bit burned out and unsure on the best strategy going forward. While I love covering the sport and being a part of that community, it’s a strain on the rest of my life, and with the NYC beat expanding to two MLS teams next year, I haven’t yet figured out what 2015 will look like. I’ll figure it out soon, but it’s been looming most of this month and the answers are still a bit muddled.

2014 was also the year the Port Authority decided, out of complete kindness, to completely ruin our weekends by shutting down our local PATH station. I am glad to consider that we may finally be able to have people over again on the weekends.

That, then, is what I can remember about the blur that was 2014. Pictures and a much reduced survey of what happened with my gaming life in future posts.

Media Lessons From The King

Today, Thierry Henry announced he would not be returning to the New York Red Bulls following the expiration of his contract. The move was not a surprise, but still has left many that surround the team a bit down.

So much ink has already been spilled about the legacy of the last four years: his talent on the field, his role with the club, his impact on MLS. He’s been an anchor since I returned to caring about the league in 2010, someone that I couldn’t believe I got to watch perform week in and week out.

But as I’m writing this on my personal site, I want to reflect on the other lasting mark Henry has left on me: he was the rare player that demanded more out of everyone involved with the team, including the media.

If you follow league beat reporters, particularly those who deal with RBNY routinely, you’re aware of his reputation when dealing with the media in the locker room. Some would label him “cranky”. Some declared him “rude”. An incident where he declined media availability after a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA in 2012 sparked a brief dust-up between media and supporters about whether or not beats had any right to speak to players at all.

Obligatory Picture Of My Stupid Face In Henry's Scrum

I won’t claim to “know” Henry from my three years of sticking a microphone towards his face, but I at least grew to have an understanding of him.

Thierry didn’t relish dealing with the media hovering around his locker, but he accepted it. (European locker rooms aren’t open to media, but MLS mandates the doors open 15 minutes after the match ends.) He was typically the last player to speak after a match, sometimes waiting a solid hour after the final whistle, which triggered its fair share of pissed off “You’re waiting HOW LONG?” text messages from soccer media widows. But Henry always seemed to have a level of professional respect for those of us who did stick around.

Thierry had his cliches – “as I said to you before”, “I don’t know if you remember”, and “not having a go at any one” being the three go-to for any Henry impersonation – but he genuinely considered every question. I can’t remember him being on auto-pilot or content with performances – he always latched on to something the team could improve on. If the team did badly, he was open about it. If the team won 4-1, he would complain about the conceded goal. If the team won 4-0, he would caution about celebrating too much, because he knew it wouldn’t be long before the team regressed.

His knowledge of the game was impossibly deep. He would run down talent on opposing rosters not that they had just faced, but that were coming up. He would commend systems and coaches elsewhere in MLS. He would frequently drop analogies involving NBA teams, the other sport he truly loved.

Following a recent home game, as he was getting ready at his locker, I watched him look up at the closed circuit TV, that was showing the annual NYPD vs. FDNY match. And he watched it just long enough, and gestured at the TV, that I could’ve swore he was analyzing the match.

Nearly as much as he loved challenging defenders on the field, he took a deep pleasure in challenging dumb or trite questions.

Thoughts on the match? “It was 90 minutes.”

Have you ever played in a game as crazy as that one? “I’ve played in a lot of games.”

Do you enjoy the new away jersey the club just released? “I don’t know, I haven’t worn it yet.”

An intricate question about his position moving wide left as he used to at Arsenal? Gets swatted down because he insists he didn’t play there at Arsenal.

My own personal dressing down (which I was surprised to find I still had the audio for) came after a softball about what he had seen from the reserves during a friendly he didn’t play in. He had often loved talking up the younger players who didn’t get a lot of field time, but apparently not as much as he loved giving me crap about trying to gain insight from a friendly:

What Thierry taught me, more than anyone else in the RBNY locker room, is the value of asking a question with a non-obvious answer. You can’t lose the germane questions entirely to get an interview rolling, but unless there’s something I can’t answer in my head, I’ve learned to just listen.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing in his final year with the club was how focused he was on the team, and not himself. As the “What are you doing next year?” questions came up nearly every week, his answer was always the same: “We’ll talk about that after the season ends.” Even in the announcement today, the thought was the same: he didn’t want to take the focus off the team’s performance. He didn’t want a farewell tour, teams bringing him gifts, endless fawning media tributes. He wanted to put his head down and be one of the eleven guys on the field.

There was an article in the club’s corporate magazine that had perhaps my favorite quote that wrapped up how he saw himself:

I keep on reiterating to everybody, I didn’t save anyone’s life, I’m not a hero, I’m none of those things. I was just out there to play the game and while I understand I gave some people joy and I ended up loving the club I played for most of my career, I didn’t go to war to protect my country. That’s worthy of elevation to the status of ‘hero’, you know? I just want people to remember me for playing some soccer and that’s all. Another player will come along and erase all those records but as long as people can recall me in some way it means that I’ve done something right.

Thanks, Thierry. It’s been a pleasure.

Not Cool, Comedy Central

On Sunday night, Katie and I went to the Paley Center panel for Broad City. We’re big fans of the show, and it was a good panel. (If you’re a fan of the show, ask me about the Hannibal anecdote.)

During the panel, Katie took a nice Instagram photo:

Katie's Photo

It was so nice, that Monday evening she noticed that Comedy Central had liked her photo. She’s taken a lot of pride in putting things on Instagram lately, as she’s been building a decent following. But then she tapped through to Comedy Central’s instagram account and saw this:

Comedy Central's Photo

A filter, a different crop, and a logo doesn’t change the fact that this is very clearly Katie’s photo – unless someone was sitting at the exact same angle and took a picture at virtually the same instance.

And I’m willing to guess that isn’t the case, because you’ll notice the link is now broken. That’s because after bringing attention to it on Twitter, Comedy Central yanked it down and replaced it with this:

Comedy Central's New Photo

Notice how quick they were here to credit the Paley Center’s photographer in this instance – just not the original.

Look – it’s 2014. Social media teams should be well aware by now that if you’re going to repurpose a photo from another user, attribution is a pretty basic courtesy. Yet not only did Comedy Central not attribute Katie’s photo, nor did they issue an apology (which is all Katie would like) – they decided to replace it entirely with someone else’s. They got caught, and rather than do the right thing, tried to erase the evidence – all the evidence except the like on Katie’s original photo. (At least, as I’m writing this. I wouldn’t be surprised if they revoke the like should someone read this post.)

I have personal experience that people within Comedy Central know how to properly respect copyright. I’m just saddened their social team thinks this is acceptable.

Calculating My 2014 MLS MVP Vote

(Trigger warning for non-soccer friends: this is all soccer.)

The end of the season MLS award voting is a bit of a struggle. With rather nebulously defined categories, voters (of which I am afforded a ballot through my media role) is forced to scratch their heads a lot. We try to figure out what level of adversity justifies the “Comeback Player Of The Year” award. We read through team-supplied biographies of various charitable efforts to work out who deserves “MLS WORKS Humanitarian Of The Year”.

And “Most Valuable Player”? It’s hopeless. Player “value” is subjective to the individual person, and so what makes one player valuable to one voter may not matter at all to another. And it’s been particularly difficult in 2014, with no clear frontrunner across any of the 19 MLS teams. Yet it’s serious business: one Twitter user declared me a “fucking idiot” for not having their favorite player in my short list.

So inspired by the Grand Ginger Of Major League Soccer (who advocates for having a formula for deciding your MVP, despite Twellman’s objections), I decided to create my own algorithm this year to help me figure out my vote.

First, I had to select a player pool. Defensive metrics are nearly impossible to come by, so I limited the list to forward and midfield players, trying to get at least one per team (with a few exceptions: sorry Colorado / Montreal / San Jose!). The twenty names that ended up on the spreadsheet were:

Quincy Amarikwa (Chicago); Will Bruin (Houston); Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York); Erick “Cubo” Torres (Chivas USA); Jermain Defoe (Toronto); Clint Dempsey (Seattle); Landon Donovan (L.A.); Dom Dwyer (Kansas City); Fabian Espindola (D.C.); Ethan Finlay (Columbus); Thierry Henry (New York); Robbie Keane (L.A.); Sebastian Le Toux (Philadelphia); Obafemi Martins (Seattle); Lee Nguyen (New England); Pedro Morales (Vancouver); Joao Plata (Salt Lake); Luis Silva (D.C.); Diego Valeri (Portland); Gyasi Zardes (L.A.)

Independently from the players, I had to select what stats mattered to me, and how much each counted.

I started with the most critical thing you can do as a player: win games for your team. So game winning goals were given a weight of 4 points each, and game winning assists would earn 3 points each.

Next, I wanted to reward offensive production in general, so non-penalty goals earned 2 points (even if they were the same as the game winner). Non-game-winning assists were worth 1 point.

Then I wanted to consider what actions an offensive player could take that would damage their team’s ability to win. I could only think of two that were easily measured: missed penalties and red cards. Red cards being the more serious of the two, I subtracted two points for each red and removed a single point for a missed penalty kick.

This gave me a raw score for each player. How did it look? Here was the top ten:

  1. Robbie Keane (79 points)
  2. Lee Nguyen (71 points)
  3. Bradley Wright-Phillips (68 points)
  4. Tie, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins (61 points each)
  5. (see #4)
  6. Landon Donovan (59 points)
  7. Tie, Dom Dwyer and Gyasi Zardes (58 points each)
  8. (see #7)
  9. Thierry Henry (53 points)
  10. Diego Valeri (52 points)

For most pundits, this is a cut and dry confirmation of what many had been saying: Robbie Keane’s production was ridiculous, and he was an easy vote for MVP. (Grant Wahl offered his case for Keane winning MVP today, which partially lead to this post being written.)

I, unsurprisingly, am not most pundits.

I get very hung up on the word “valuable”, and after rolling it around in my head for a while, I couldn’t overlook one thing: the pay scale in MLS is quite notoriously out of whack. This is, after all, a league where a player on one side of the locker room may be making $6,000,000 as a base salary (like Toronto FC striker Jermain Defoe), while his teammate across the room may be on the league minimum of $36,500 (like Toronto FC midfielder Daniel Lovitz).

So I wanted to apply a “salary factor”, one that would adjust the player’s performance in light of their salary. This took a little while to figure out a reasonable system for, because with the range so great, it could very easily tilt the scale too far away from designated players.

The formula I came up with looks like this:

Factor = SQRT(SQRT([Player Base Salary] / [League Median Salary]))

The league median in 2014, per articles I dug up, was $80,000. Taking the fourth root stabilized the values into a range from 0.89 (for Ethan Finlay, making just $50,848) up to 2.94 (for Jermain Defoe). Dom Dwyer sits right at $80,000, so he was the only player to not have his raw score modified by the multiplier.

Is the factor uniformly fair? It’s debatable, but my general impression is yes. The Keanes and Defoes of the world should be better than the guys making a sliver of their salary. (Again, I’m obsessing over value, and I get that’s not for everyone.)

Here, then, are the rankings of all 20 players scaled by salary:

  1. Lee Nguyen (58.38 points)
  2. Dom Dwyer (58.00 points)
  3. Gyasi Zardes (51.88 points)
  4. Joao Plata (50.66 points)
  5. Bradley Wright-Phillips (47.71 points)
  6. Ethan Finlay (43.68 points)
  7. Luis Silva (37.88 points)
  8. Will Bruin (36.49 points)
  9. Fabian Espindola (35.89 points)
  10. Diego Valeri (32.89 points)
  11. Erick “Cubo” Torres (30.66 points)
  12. Robbie Keane (28.85 points)
  13. Obafemi Martins (28.76 points)
  14. Quincy Amarikwa (24.72 points)
  15. Sebastian Le Toux (24.07 points)
  16. Landon Donovan (21.85 points)
  17. Clint Dempsey (21.79 points)
  18. Thierry Henry (20.26 points)
  19. Pedro Morales (15.79 points)
  20. Jermain Defoe (12.91 points)

There’s a lot of interesting occurrences in here, particularly when it comes to LA’s attack. Donovan (4 GWG / 5 GWA) and Keane (5 GWG, 6 GWA) both produced big numbers, but when Gyasi Zardes is in the same ballpark (6 GWG / 0 GWA) for a fraction of the salary ($125,000 compared to Landon’s $4.25M and Robbie’s $4.5M), it’s hard to argue they’re not getting tremendous value out of their academy product.

But overall, the math confirmed what my gut had been feeling: that Lee Nguyen put up incredible numbers (no one was even close to his nine game winning goals) at what is almost a criminally low salary. (Never mind that he’s not an attacker and produced those numbers as a midfielder.)

So: my first choice vote (you get two choices on the ballot) for the 2014 MLS MVP for Lee Nguyen.

I have no doubt some will want to argue that my weights are wrong, that I’ve overlooked a key metric, or that I’m just dumb for using a spreadsheet to determine who to vote for. And that’s cool, but I’m not looking to argue – it was my vote, one of who knows how many in the media vote, which will only count for 33% of the total vote scoring.

For those that would prefer to argue about this, a request: write your own algorithm. The process is illuminating about what does and doesn’t matter to you when it comes to player performance. (And if you want to lobby people with the votes that count the most, aim for a club’s sporting director/coach/GM/communications director, as those 76 votes combined count as much as the entire media vote.)

As for my second choice? Well, I can’t follow a formula all the time.

Amanda Cohen on Us vs. Them

Amanda Cohen’s rumination on a 1-star review she received on Yelp is a solid read:

So on behalf of 99% of restaurants I want to tell customers: No one’s out to get you. There’s a reason some restaurants do weird things. They may not make sense to you, but could you trust us? Restaurants have one goal in life, to make money. And the easiest way to do that is to help you have the time of your life. And to chefs, this is a service business. It’s not about our egos, or our margins, or our precious, precious food. It’s about making people happy. That’s all most of our customers want.

I think this goes well beyond the restaurant industry into lots of creative disciplines.

RemyWiki Lives On

I’m happy to announce that RemyWiki is back its temporary induced coma, and now living at a new easy-to-remember host. All the data, including accounts, have transferred over.

Many thanks to Corin Simpson-Bryars for taking over the hosting, as well as the plethora of other folks who reached out to offer assistance.

Links to the old site should redirect over to the new site with a 301 code, but if you see any weird behavior, let me know.

Losing My Edge

Let me start with a basic truth: I am not the nerd I was when I was 20 years old.

When I started blogging in 2000, it was something resembling a brave new world. I cut my teeth with learning web programming concepts by building my own crude CMS.

A few years later, I would move to Drupal, and try to stay cutting edge with releases. I’d destroy my database one too many times and eventually moved to MovableType, but even though, I still had the deep nerd passions. I was working as a sysadmin, coding VJArmy and Pop’n Navy, and felt like I had a reasonably strong grasp of the technical skills that were necessary for such things.

Then 2006 came, and I moved out of the directly technical field into the somewhat technical field.

Then 2008 came, and I moved out of the somewhat technical field into the technical management field.

It’s been 14 years since I wrote that rudimentary CMS, and 8 years since I was last a sysadmin. And as the world has changed, my ability to feel any gusto for the idea of configuring Apache and/or patching kernels and/or fprotting tarballs has diminished to zero.

So much like when Movable Type’s troubled history eventually lead me to a snap migration to WordPress, today’s news about the ShellShock vulnerability lead me to come to terms with another harsh reality: my energy for dealing with sysadmin work for my own website has emptied.

The box this site was running on was not in any shape to continue. The thought of rebuilding a VM from scratch when I haven’t built a server in nearly a decade sounded painful.


The upshot: I had an easy plan B.

At the day job, we’ve been Pantheon customers for over a year, and their platform is familiar, powerful, and hit the core use case I needed: keep my blog running. (The other stuff, we will come back to.)

The migration process – from registering a personal account, to spinning up the new site, to importing, to configuring and pushing to production, to activating payment and cutting over the DNS, took about 45 minutes. (I’m not including the 5 minutes where I completely screwed up the initial configuration process.)

Quick. Easy. Mostly painless.


The downside: the other stuff that ran on the box – including RemyWiki – is not running on this host.

RemyWiki may not be familiar to the people who read my blog – it was tucked away on the site, almost a separate world – but it is/was a very active and busy MediaWiki install that documented English language Bemani information.

The challenges of running it boil down to three:

  1. It has the same problems as above – not only does it need sysadmin time and energy to maintain the host, but it also needs its own care and feeding for patching, something I had fallen way behind on (and patching MediaWiki is hellish).
  2. It is a natural magnet for spammers, to the point where I had to turn off registrations and ask people to email me if they wanted access (which I was never very quick in turning around).
  3. It probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep running an informational resource for a hobby that I’m no longer actively involved in, or at the very least, have it so closely tied with my personal site.

So with that in mind: if there are Bemani community folks out there who want to pick up the pieces and get the thing running somewhere else, please reach out. I want to give it a good home, as I know people have poured nearly 10 years of care and feeding into the content. It’s more than a little devastating to know I can’t give it that any more.

Struggling with the dark and responding to the light.