Sunday, March 28, 2010

3-28-10: New York Red Bulls and the State of Soccer in the U.S.

The first thing I noticed while watching the New York Red Bulls match against the Chicago Fire on ESPN was the field. I can't recall seeing a field in that kind of condition during an MLS game. Despite the poor weather, the grass seemed to hold up well, and there was NO CONFETTI on the field. Then, maybe 20 minutes into the game, they had a nice shot showing the entire Red Bull Arena, and I thought "This looks like a European football stadium." A few seconds later, John Harkes, announcing the game with J.P. Dellacamera for ESPN, made the same comment.

The game itself was OK, but not great. New York won 1-0, which is always a good thing to do when you open up a new $200 million stadium dedicated to one sport. But whether the game was in New York (well, New Jersey) or Los Angeles or Chicago, the fact is, the sport of soccer is doing quite well in the U.S. The fans looked to be into it, maybe not as much as they are in Seattle (great crowd; if I were in town during a game I'd be sure to grab tickets if they're available), but the acoustics didn't lie: it was a great crowd for soccer.

I don't see this sort of thing spreading rapidly across the country, but as the World Cup approaches, I think now is the time for MLS and the lower leagues to milk this and to hope things get even better. I don't see them building a lot more soccer-only stadia, but I may have to pay Red Bull Arena a visit this season.

Good work, MLS.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

3-27-10: Stability - Balance Experiment

I'm taking a quick break from a homework assignment for my grad class in Feedback and Control Systems because I just finished a problem that involved the following experiment:

- Stand with one foot in front of another, with your hands resting on your hips and your elbows bowed outward.
- Close your eyes.

Did you experience a low-frequency oscillation that grew until you lost your balance? Is this orientation stable with and without the use of your eyes?

I certainly did. The problem description actually began with: "We all use our eyes and ears to achieve balance. Our orientation system allows us to sit or stand in a desired position even while in motion. This orientation system is primarily run by the information received in the inner ear, where the semicircular canals sense angular acceleration and the otoliths measure linear acceleration. But these acceleration measurements need to be supplemented by visual signals."

Neat. The problem is from Modern Control Systems, 11th ed. by Dorf and Bishop

Thursday, March 25, 2010

3-25-10: GWT

For my Midterm exam for a course I am taking in Enterprise Java, I made a very basic web application using Google Web Toolkit (GWT). Here's the presentation I made:

And here's the paper I compiled: GWT Report.pdf

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

3-24-10: Oddly Enough I Actually Like Cornell

My uncle taught at Cornell for several years, and whenever I would visit my aunt and uncle in Ithaca as a kid, I always loved visiting the Cornell campus. I even considered applying there in high school, but things worked out differently when I got into WPI. But, throughout my life, I have always liked Cornell.

But sports are a different animal, and I’m finding myself rooting against Big Red this weekend in two NCAA tournament match-ups.

First and foremost, for me, is Men’s Ice Hockey. Cornell is taking on my favorite team in hockey, the UNH Wildcats, in the East Regional in Albany. Cornell is the favorite in that matchup, and they have more of a home ice advantage. The fact that UNH got knocked out rather early from the Hockey East Tournament gives me even more reservations for their success. Still, I want UNH to move on.

Regarding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, it’s a matter of brackets. I’m doing one bracket this year, and my bracket has Kentucky winning it all. The near “Cinderella story” Cornell just so happens to be playing against Kentucky (in Syracuse, giving them home court advantage – two sports?!). This one is simply selling whatever loyalty I had to Cornell, which was none, for $5. Sorry, Big Red, but I have you going down in that match-up.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

3-16-10: Glorious Guacamole

I’m a big fan of good guacamole. My family has always been avid Mexican food enthusiasts, and, whenever possible, my mother would make some of the delicious dip. I’ve been on a bit of a avocado binge for the last few weeks, so last night I decided to try my hand at some home-made guacamole.

It was all I hoped for, and possibly more, and it was unbelievably easy! I followed the first recipe I found on Google, with only a couple alterations. I didn’t feel like springing for Cilantro, which I guess might make a minor difference in consistency, but I didn’t find it to be a major difference from what I was used to. I also bought a fresh lemon rather than lemon juice.

The ingredients I used were:

Two avocados (ripe when soft!)

½ red onion

1 small tomato-on-the-vine (rather than ½ a larger ripe one)

½ lemon

½ tbsp Chili powder

Dash of salt and pepper

The process is very easy. All you need are: a mixing bowl, a spoon, sharp knife, cutting board, and a large fork. You could also use a large mortar and pestle if you want to feel more traditional. It should take you, in total, about 10-15 minutes. I think I spent $8 on all ingredients.

Here are the steps:

1. Cut each avocado in half lengthwise. Remove the large seed in the middle. Use the spoon to scoop out the green goodness into the mixing bowl.

2. Dice the ½ red onion.

3. Cut the lemon in half

4. Dice the small tomato

5. Mash up the avocados with the large fork. Once they are sufficiently mashed into the familiar guacamole consistency, add the diced ½ red onion.

6. Squeeze the lemon out into the mix, continue mashing

7. Add the salt, pepper, and Chili powder

8. Add the diced tomato and mix.

9. DONE. Serve with tortilla chips. Serves 2-3 people.

Thanks go to Simply Recipes for the easy to follow recipe.

Monday, March 15, 2010

3-15-10: Green Zone

On Saturday night I went with some friends to see Green Zone, an action movie starring Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass, who also directed The Bourne Ultimatum.

The question I had going in, which I’d imagine was the same question being asked by many who saw the film, was “Is this going to be just another Jason Bourne movie?” Fortunately, it wasn’t that simple. Yes, the style is strikingly similar. The camera shakes, the action is non-stop, and Damon’s character, an Army Chief Warrant Officer, makes almost no mistakes and gets himself out of some pretty rough situations.

Overall, I found it entertaining. I was glad to see that they tried to not make it just another Bourne film, but still kept it moving pretty well. The story itself is very politically charged; it’s about the early days of the Iraq War and the fruitless searches for weapons of mass destruction. I found a couple parts to be loosely constructed, which sometimes can work as a refreshing “I didn’t see that one coming,” but, for the most part, Green Zone’s moments fell flat and just felt slightly lazy.

The technical film making was quite superb. They didn’t go overboard with the technology, but kept it pretty cutting edge. The character development was OK but not great. The ending was mostly predictable. Damon did a good job, and I found the acting to be quite good on the whole. I’d be cautious about recommending it to others to see in theatres, but I do think it’s a good popcorn movie that requires only the slightest bit of thought. The topic, the Iraq War, is getting a bit old, but I thought it worked. I’m going to go with a score of 7 out of 10.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

3-13-10: Hockey East Championship 2010

Last night marked the start of the 2010 Hockey East Tournament, with the first Quarterfinal round games being played between the top eight teams in the conference.

I've been following Hockey East since 1990, when I was four and living in Durham, NH. We lived clear across town from UNH, but we went to nearly every home Men's Hockey game we could. I have many fond memories of Snively Arena ("lively Snively") with its bleachers and raucous crowds. That was a long time ago in college hockey, which at times seems to be more of a show than a college sport with some of the pre-game introductions they do. UNH now plays in the Whittemore Center, which I had the chance to play in a few times before moving to Connecticut in middle school. Despite the changes in venue and attitude, the college game is fantastic to watch, and I try to take advantage whenever I can.

UNH has won Hockey East before, but I never had a chance to see it live. This year they finished Hockey East Regular Season Champions, which they've done several times before. It matters not, though, unless they win the tournament. When I was in college, I went to the tournament semi-finals in Boston, only to see them lose to UMass. Very disappointing. The last time they won the tournament was in 2003; their last appearance in the championship game was a 5-2 loss to Boston College in 2007.

And UNH once again showed signs of struggling last night in their first quarterfinal game against Vermont. After two periods of play, they were down 4-2. The game was not on NESN (they had the BU - Merrimack game), so when I saw that score, I figured "Oh well, another year, another disappointment."

Then I saw the score this morning: 7-4 UNH. WHOA! The Wildcats scored five unanswered goals in the third period to take a sizable lead going into the second game tonight at Vermont. Hopefully they can keep things going and I'll be seeing them next Friday on NESN.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

3-11-10: The Savard Hit

I didn't watch Sunday's game against the Penguins, but did get a chance to see the replay of the Cooke hit on Savard. In the time since, it has been decided, by the NHL, that the hit was not worthy of a suspension, but a rule has been proposed by the General Managers to ban such hits in the future.

As a Bruins fan, I hate to see a star player get hurt. I want nothing more than to see retribution for the hit. At the same time, I am a fan of the sport. What Cooke did may look dirty, but it was still legal. Plenty of injuries occur from perfectly legal body checks. Scott Stevens made a career of big, legal hits. As a young player, I was told by a coach at hockey camp: "You want to hit 'em with the shoulder. It's bigger than the elbow. It will do more damage, and it's legal."

The issue becomes whether Cooke intended to injure Savard, and the violence of the hit. To me, those two points are irrelevant. If the contact is within the rules, Cooke could have screamed "Look at me, I just took his fucking head off!" and can't be assessed a penalty for the hit itself (he'd be liable for Unsportsmanlinke, perhaps). He hit him with his shoulder. No elbow. No charge. Savard had just released the puck. It was simply a well timed hit from the blind side.

I don't know if I agree with the new rule. I've been hit pretty hard, especially in college hockey. I can't remember which hits were from my blind side and which were directly in front of me, but my guess would be more would be from the blind side, otherwise I may have likely avoided more hits. Why would they ban those hits? So long as it doesn't violate the current rules, which are numerous (hit from behind, charging, elbowing, high sticking, cross checking, etc.), it should be legal. It is nice to see the GM's looking out for the players, but I think that could be based on the viewpoint of players as investments. Savard is a star player. Do you think this incident would have drawn nearly the same attention if it had been a fourth line winger getting hit? Who knows.

Anyway, I hope for a speedy and full recovery for Savard, and I hope Cooke gets what is coming to him the next time the Bruins face him.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

3-9-10: A Great Ski Season

The ski season ended strongly with the On Snow Winter Carnival at Mount Snow this past weekend. It was three days of skiing in the sun. The weather: perfect. The conditions: not bad. I was able to get in a ton of runs on Friday with a relatively empty mountain. Saturday was much, much busier (the second busiest day of the season apparently). Sunday was right in the middle as far as crowds went.

On Snow is an annual event put on by the Connecticut Ski Council. It has been held at various mountains around New England over the years. The festivities include races of all sorts, volleyball, Tug of War, and general social well-being. The dinner on Saturday, held at the Grand Summit Hotel, was attended by over 200 people from the various ski clubs throughout Connecticut. My club, Hamden, was very well represented.

As usual, I spent most of the weekend skiing on my own, while the lady and the others were involved in both Super G and GS races on Friday and Saturday. I stuck to the blue runs, which were quite fun. My first experience at Mount Snow was back in early January, and was probably one of my least favorite trips of the entire season. It was snowy, and very crowded. This weekend more than made up for that, and I honestly hope next year's On Snow is held there again.

We stayed at a lovely establishment called the Inn at Quail Run in nearby Wilmington, about a 10 minute drive from the mountain. There were about 20 of us staying there from the club, and it was very pleasant. Full kitchen, bar area, pool table (big plus for me), and the rooms were very nice. I'd stay there again in a heartbeat.

The skiing also went very well. I stayed mostly on the main face, but did spend some time over at Sunbrook. Most of the mountain (73% in fact) consists of blue runs, which is perfect for me. I really enjoyed the following trails: Ridge, Snowdance, Thanks Walt, and Lodge. Nice wide cruisers. The lady and I worked on some edging drills, but what worked best: Follow the Leader. It had worked for her brother, who had also skiied using the "hockey stop" technique, which consists of more "Z" than "S" turns. So, we gave it a try, and I followed in her tracks, and felt (and apparently looked) much better. I think we'll try that again next season.

I have to say, I had a lot of fun this season. I'm really looking forward to next year. The goal: be on the blacks by March 2011. I think I can do it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

3-1-10: A Lovely Weekend at Jay Peak

I got back late last night from Jay Peak after a weekend of skiing. It's about a 5 hour drive from southern Connecticut, about 15 miles from the Canadian border. Jay Peak is known for its trees, which was the popular destination for many skiers, including even the likes of myself.

I had a great weekend. As I have at Okemo and Sunday River on the previous weekend trips this season, I took a lesson on Saturday morning. Jay Peak is not really known for its ski school, but I thought they did a pretty decent job. I had a bit of interesting luck, as I was the only "low intermediate" skier in the whole group. There were several "high intermediate" skiers and above, but only a couple beginner skiers. So, I opted to go with the beginner group, which turned out to be a decent decision in the end, all things considered.

The instructor, Jack, took us on the beginner slope to start. The other two skiers in the group, both women there with family, were very nice, and not too bad as far as skiing went. One of them simply hadn't skied in a few years, and the other had been taking lessons for a week straight and was going fine. Jack showed us a couple drills to do, my favorite being one where, while making the turn, leaned down and touched out outside (downhill) foot. This helped to force us to put out weight forward in the turn, which is my biggest problem. My goal was to learn to begin edging better and perform carved turns.

Jack got a bit adventurous and took us up to Ullr's Dream, a very nice blue run at the top. Ullr's was one of the trails I'd been looking at on the map for a couple weeks, and it didn't let me down. The only tricky part was one bumpy part, which I and the group managed to survive quite well with minimal fuss. Jack had us doing the touch drill, which really helped me cut through the several inches of rather thick snow. He also gave us a nice tip: if you feel like you're losing your balance, stand up a bit, then throw yourself forward. That really helped, and I liked how he said "You want to keep that weight forward to control the tip of the ski. That's what you want to turn with." So simple! And yet, so hard to learn. We ended on Kokomo, which is a nice blue tree run where you can really have some fun. Good lesson.

The rest of the weekend was spent in the various blue tree runs, my favorite of which were: Full Moon, Bushwacker, and Kokomo. Half Moon got an honorable mention, as well. My only really troublesome spot, which brought me nothing but frustration, was Northway. I took the Bonavanture Quad up and decided to try out a few runs over on "State Side". Northway was not marked as the "Easiest Way Down," for good reason. It was BUMPY. Nothing but moguls. I struggled mightily, and wasted a good 10 minutes trying to get my ski on after a spill. The snow had caked onto the bottom of my boot (which also caused me to briefly panic before my lesson because I thought I had broken my binding) and I could barely get it back on. After finally getting down, I took a quick break to rest my weary legs before hitting the shorter blue runs before calling it a day.

Yesterday was a better day. I spent the morning again in the blue gladed runs, as well as a trip up to the top to pay a visit to Ullr again. This time: fewer bumps. Great stuff. The lady and I spent the afternoon together working on some edging and bumps. Again, back to Ullr's. This time, the bumps had returned. She taught me how to do kick turns, and after a few rough bumps, I got the hang of it. I even did a few correctly! Much to both of our surprise. She also had me doing some pole plants, which I found to help me keep my weight more forward. Alas, I made two bad pole plants, which sent me flying both times, and resulted in one of my poles being bent at the bottom. But it was still quite fun. By 3:15, I was done, and just in time for the beginning of the men's ice hockey gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada. What timing! I ended up watching the first period before we left. Great weekend of skiing, with fabulous conditions. I very much enjoyed Jay Peak.

By the way, we stayed at the Jay Village Inn. I picked it out myself. Very nice little spot for those on a slight budget. They're very nice people, and it's only a few miles from the mountain. The rooms are small, but they have a hot tub, sauna, and great restaurant with pool tables. The country store is also right across the street. I strongly recommend it.

Time for me to start studying. I'm taking the day off to study for a Feedback and Control Systems exam.