Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pyongyang Pikas Postgame: Weeks 6 and 7

After a frustrating loss to Tom's 2MuchJohnson4U in Week 6, the Pikas rebounded to reclaim a winning record with a victory over Zach's Beat Tom in Week 7.

The Pikas are now 0-2 against Calvin Johnson and company, losing to Tom's team in Week 3 by 4 points and in Week 6 by 5 points.  In Week 3, the loss came down to a bad decision to bench Aaron Rodgers; in Week 6, the Pikas could have started Frank Gore over Matt Forte, or Mike Wallace over Roddy White, or the Bears D/ST over the Ravens, and they would have pulled out the victory.  The Pikas front office never seriously considered any of those moves, though, and the Pikas actually had the lead going into the Monday night game.

Monday night turned into the most amusing construct of fantasy football yet.  Say the fantasy team you're playing against starts a certain defense; we'll call it the Jets defense.  And say the Jets are playing a certain offense; we'll call it the Dolphins.  Naturally, you want the Dolphins to score a lot of points, so that the Jets defense loses fantasy points, and you win.  But at some point, if the Jets defense is good enough (and oh, is it), the 10 points for a shutout start looking a whole lot better than the flood of points they could score if they yield a couple of field goals but rack up some sacks and turnovers along the way.

That's the situation the Pikas faced on Monday night of Week 6.  A comfortable 15-point lead quickly turned into a point short of a tie as the Jets defense picked up a quick fumble return for a touchdown--but that would have been okay, assuming the Dolphins offense scored any touchdowns at all.  Frankly, that would have been even have been okay assuming the Dolphins did literally nothing else on offense.  It would have been better for the Pikas had the Dolphins just swum away from the game and taken knees on every play.

But they didn't.  They tried--and failed--to score more points, and the Jets defense was all too happy to scoop up the football three more times on those failed attempts.  The Jets D/ST turned into 2MuchJohnson4U's biggest scorer, and the Pikas fell to .500 on the season.

Final score: 2MuchJohnson4U 115, Pikas 110

Fortunately, in Week 7, the Pikas found their way to their favorite patch of fresh grass: Zach's Beat Tom team.  Beat Tom has been kind to the Pikas so far, and Week 7 was no exception.  Aaron Rodgers led the effort with 25 fantasy points, but it wasn't a single-player effort: of the Pikas' nine players, six scored 11 points or more, and Jermichael Finley at tight end had a respectable 7.  A backup kicker (with New England's Stephen Gostkowski on bye) managed only 3, but kickers in this league are notoriously swingy.

The sole disappointment was early-season goat Chris Johnson, who was forced to start because new favorite Fred Jackson was on bye.  He hasn't picked his game up at all, cobbling together a mere 3 points.  Fortunately, it didn't hurt the Pikas in Week 7--but it could pose a problem in Week 8.

Beat Tom tried to make things interesting in the late games, with New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston coming back from injury to score 21 points, but it was too little, too late.  And although the Ravens suffered a pretty humiliating defeat at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars, their defense was still good for 11 points to end the week's action.

Final score: Pikas 112, Beat Tom 87  Current record: 4-3 (3-0 in division)

The Pikas are not looking forward to Week 8.  Five of their players have byes, including the league's best quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) and best running back (Matt Forte).  Fortunately, the league's second-best wide receiver (Wes Welker) and second-best running back (Fred Jackson) have gathered enough fresh grass for the time being and are back in action this week.  Hopefully that will be enough to go up two games to one in the season series against the North Dakota Narwhals.

Currently listening: "Santa Fe," Beirut

Friday, October 21, 2011

Conference Chronicle: 2011 AIChE Annual Meeting

One of the most ridiculous parts of grad school--or any job that involves research, I suppose--is the conference, where you shuttle yourself and your flash drive around the country and pretend like you've broken some academic ground.  It's sort of like vacation, in that you get to go to new and exotic locations, except that your employer is paying for it, so you feel a little guilty about having too good a time.  Also, it's usually colder than real vacation.

That was certainly the case in Minneapolis last week, where I found myself for less than 48 hours in the name of promoting plasma medicine.  And I was determined to make those 48 hours count.

October 15, 2011
9:30 pm (PDT), Berkeley CA: BART doesn't run on Sunday before 8 am.  This is a Big Problem.  My flight to Los Angeles (a natural layover for a flight to Minneapolis) leaves Oakland at 9:30, so I need to be at Oakland by 8:30 am at the earliest.  I scour Google Maps for about half an hour and finally concede that my best option is to take the 6:45 am 1 bus.

October 16, 2011
7:30 am, Oakland CA: International Boulevard in Oakland lives up to its name.

8:30 am: I am stuck behind six Chilean guys in the TSA line at the Oakland airport.  There are plenty of TSA personnel, but instead of opening up more lines, TSA decides they need to be rolling three deep at every check point.

11:30 am, Los Angeles CA: LAX doesn't make any sense.  This airport is completely incomprehensible.  Say what you will about ATL, but at least it's possible to navigate.  I land in Terminal 5 and apparently have to go to Terminal 6.  The catch?  Terminal 5 does not connect to Terminal 6.  I get on a shuttle bus that drives around a few tarmacs and really hope the driver knows what he's doing.

11:33 am: Terminal 6 looks like a postmodern art installation.  There are exposed rafters, insulation hanging from the ceiling, and approximately two signs to direct me to my gate.

6:53 pm (CDT), Minneapolis MN: Minneapolis has pleasantly surprised me.  Its light rail is a sensible, straightforward, and cheap way to get from its airport to its downtown.  The only other cities I know of that can claim that are San Francisco (which charges an arbitrary $4 for the privilege of going to the airport), Washington (which gives you the extra added adventure of decoding this), and Atlanta (which takes you through a stretch of the city you might call "the hood").

7:48 pm: I arrive at the Minneapolis Convention Center, all ready to print my badge. The "thank you for registering email" told me "The registration area will be open beginning at 7:30 AM on Sunday, October 16."  Anything in there about it closing?  Nope.  So imagine my surprise to find that the registration is closed for the evening and won't reopen until the next day at 7 am.

8:23 pm: For the amount of money I'm my department is paying for me to stay at this Radisson, it damn well better have free internet.  It does, but its bandwidth is straight out of 1998.  I manage to cobble together about an hour's worth of Skype with my girlfriend, and it's sort of lucky that she has to leave, because I'm not sure how much more that poor connection could have handled.

October 17, 2011
6:01 am: I'm awake this early for only the second time this year.

7:20 am: It's 41 degrees outside.  It's October.  What's wrong with this picture?  Luckily, I unearthed a Starbucks gift card from the depths of my desk drawer before I left.  It hasn't run out yet, which is fortunate, because "cold and early" is a combination that pretty much begs for coffee.

8:30 am: My session at the conference starts.  There are twelve people here, including two session chairs and seven speakers.  Frankly, that's about three more than I expected to show up.

8:55 am: I chat about plasma for a while.

12:47 pm: Back in my hotel room, eating a Cuban sandwich, watching some trashy daytime TV.  Not necessarily wearing pants.  Living the dream.  But it is pretty cool that the view from my lucky-thirteenth floor room looks like this:

2:23 pm: Okay, I think.  Gave a talk, sat through the rest of my session, went to a plenary... sounds like enough conference to me.  I decide to check out the Mall of America.  It's as ridiculous as I could have hoped.

Yes, there really is a roller coaster in the middle of this mall.

This turf war has to be intentional.

Approximately fifteen years ago, it would have been literally impossible to remove me from here.

7:01 pm: I head down to the waterfront to see if I can get an Obligatory River Shot of the Mississippi.  I notice a strange phenomenon: there's an abundance of people wearing Packers jerseys in this city.  It's not as intense a rivalry as, say, Packers/Bears, but the Packers and Vikings are not exactly best friends either.  Would you expect to walk around Philadelphia on game day and see more Giants than Eagles jerseys?

7:03 pm: Perplexed though I am, I do manage to see the Mighty Mississippi at sunset.

October 18, 2011
8:39 am: In my first serious attempt to navigate the Minneapolis Skyway, I get completely lost.  Turns out "Macy's" is not nearly as descriptive a landmark as "the intersection of 8th Street and 1st Avenue".

11:06 am: I've managed to get un-lost and ride back to the airport. I get the opportunity to gate check my bag, which is a little like opening a cereal box and getting two prizes, or pressing the "up" button on an elevator and having the doors immediately open.  You reduce your hassle by about 50% and save $20 at the same time!

12:56 pm (PDT), Phoenix AZ:  Phoenix is probably the second-most logical connection city for my route, after Los Angeles.  This airport sucks a lot less, but I manage to spend seven dollars on this:

Notice 1) the halfhearted-at-best attempt at slicing and 2) the crust tumor growing from the pizza's bottom-left.  What you can't notice is the two minutes of under-cooking.

3:30 pm, Oakland CA: I arrive back in Oakland, exactly on time, which is a feat previously unaccomplished by US Airways.

Currently listening: "Fletcher," Blitzen Trapper

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pyongyang Pikas Pastgame: Week 5

Week 5 delivered a thrilling matchup between the Pikas and Josh's team, the newly christened North Dakota Narwhals.  With the league-leading Ravens defense on a bye this week, the Pikas drafted the New York Giants defense based solely on an ESPN projection, but other than that, the Pikas roster featured all of its starters.

After an astounding Week 4, the Pikas were virtually guaranteed to regress a little.  Aaron Rodgers' 45 points in Week 4 were clearly unsustainable, but a Sunday night effort of 23 points was nothing to complain about.  In the same Sunday night game, Roddy White (11), Michael Turner (11), and Jermichael Finley (6) all underperformed a little but not enough to doom the Pikas.  Wes Welker's 12 landed him in the same "not a disappointment but not a breakout" spot.  And the draftee Giants defense was mediocre at best, piling up 6 sacks but allowing 36 points to claim a total of 6 fantasy points.

Only a couple of Pikas had breakout weeks: Stephen Gostkowski turned in a whopping 13 at the kicker position, and early-season acquisition Fred Jackson continued to deliver at running back with 25 points.

While the Pikas played consistent (if not outstanding) football throughout their roster, the Narwhals had some players falter--and one truly memorable performance to balance them out.  In three wide receiver slots, the Narwhals combined for a mere 22 points, and running back Darren Sproles was a mild disappointment at 9.  But Adrian Peterson once again had his day, raking in 30 points, 22 of them coming in the first quarter alone.

Peterson's performance was so strong that the Narwhals actually led the Pikas entering the Monday night game, but the Pikas had one more weapon: running back Matt Forte, coming off a career day last week.  The stakes were high, and the math was straightforward: if Forte could run for at least 100 yards, the Pikas could carry the day.  It was demanding but not impossible, and if Forte could reach the end zone at least once, the numbers became a lot more relaxed.

Forte never scored his touchdown, but he did rush for 116 yards (and threw in 35 receiving yards for good measure) to secure the victory for the Pikas.

Final score: Pikas 121, Narwhals 116  Pikas record: 3-2 (2-0 in division)

In Week 6, the Pikas play the ever-formidable 2MuchJohnson4U, the newest moniker of Tom's team, highlighting the remarkable ability of Calvin Johnson to catch footballs.  The ESPN projection has the Pikas ahead, but Johnson--along with Tom Brady and LeSean McCoy--are sure to keep things interesting.

Currently listening: "Solid," the Dandy Warhols

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Pyongyang Pikas Postgame: Week 4

This is what the Pikas are capable of.

Weeks 2 and 3 saw consecutive losses for the Pikas, and they desperately needed a win in Week 4 to get the season back on track.  They got it.

Last Sunday's early afternoon games gave the Pikas a quick start, with Matt Forte and new acquisition Fred Jackson combining for 43 points at running back.  Mike Wallace was less impressive--but still not a complete disappointment--at 7.  Going into the late afternoon games, the Pikas had a slim lead, one that could be erased if Darren McFadden or Ryan Mathews had a breakout game.

They could have had two breakout games each, and it wouldn't have mattered.  Jermichael Finley didn't repeat his stunning Week 3 performance, netting the Pikas only 2 points, but everything else clicked at every position.  Wes Welker continued to dominate at wide receiver, the Seahawks defense contributed to the effort by giving Michael Turner a few easy touchdowns, and Patriots kicker Steven Gostkowski was solid too.

But this week's game was so lopsided that all of the above players could have sat on the bench, and the Pikas still would not have lost.  Aaron Rodgers did it all: 400 passing yards including 4 touchdowns, 2 rushing touchdowns, and a colossal 45 fantasy points (I promise never to bench you again!).  And the Ravens defense, fully recovered from its Week 2 stumble, racked up 3 defensive touchdowns coming off an interception, 3 fumble recoveries and 2 sacks.  It led the grossly overrated Mark Sanchez to dominate the Bad Quarterbacks League standings in Week 4, and it cemented the Ravens defense as football's--or at least fantasy's--best defense.

Final score: Pikas 178, Beat Tom 77.  Pikas record: 2-2 (2-0 in division; perhaps I should play Beat Tom every week)

Sadly for me, the Ravens defense gets a bye this week, so the Pikas will have to combat Josh's Team entirely on the strength of their offense.  The projection is for a healthy Pikas win; the past history with Josh's Team suggests otherwise.  We'll see what happens in Sunday's rematch.

Currently listening: "Don't Carry It All," the Decemberists