Saturday, February 6, 2010

UFC 109: Picking the winners

As usual, Kyle and I are testing our predictive powers with our picks for tonight's UFC PPV fights. I won the last contest, so Kyle is seeking a return to victory. Will he make it? Or will my prognostication skills lay the smack down on his yet again? Of course, neither of us can win by much, because we disagree on only two fights, but those two differences mean someone will emerge victorious. Lest the tension become unbearable, let's get right to the picks.

We'll start, of course, with the undercard.

Joey Beltran vs. Rolles Gracie

Mark: I admire Beltran for taking this fight on short notice, and certainly like anyone who can throw hard punches, he always has a puncher's chance of winning. That said, Gracie is simply in another class. He'll take down Beltran and submit him fast. I expect we'll see Gracie's arm in the air before the first round has a chance to end.

Kyle: Beltran's coming in on a week's notice to fight a submission master. He always has a puncher's chance, but Gracie should be able to get the fight to the ground, at which point it'll be all over except for the tapping.

Tim Hague vs. Chris Tuchscherer

Mark: I'm frankly puzzled by the UFC's booking of this fight, because it features two heavyweights most notable for the blows they've received: Hague for being knocked out in seven seconds, and Tuchscherer for having his nuts kicked into the balcony by Gabriel Gonzaga. This fight is also likely to be the most boring of the night, as Tuchscherer takes down Hague and holds him down until the ref stands them up, then does it again. Tuchscherer for the boring decision.

Kyle: Hague has achieved lasting UFC fame for being on the receiving end of the fastest knockout in UFC history, courtesy of Todd Duffee. He probably won't have to worry about a repeat of that at the hands of Tuchscherer. He will have to worry, though, about being taken down and fed elbows for three rounds. Tuchscherer is a powerful wrestler, and I don't think Hague's takedown defense is going to be enough to keep Tuchscherer from walking away with a win.

Brian Stann vs. Phil Davis

Mark: Everybody's picking Davis to win this fight for the simple reason that although this is his first UFC fight, his wrestling is so good that he will be able to take down Stann at will. On the ground, Stann is in trouble. Stann, on the other hand, has fought in big shows, and he's training with Phil Jackson, which is always a plus. Because of Jackson, I'm going with Stann.

Kyle: Styles make fights and this bout pits an NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion against a standup fighter who's never shown much in the way of takedown defense. The outcome should be obvious, which is why Phil Davis, the wrestler, is a 3-to-1 favorite over Stann in the Bodog odds. Nonetheless, I'm picking Stann to win. He's always fought with heart and now that he's training with Greg Jackson, he finally has a camp that can push him to the level of his potential. I believe that Stann and Jackson can come up with a gameplan that will defy the odds and win the fight.

Phillipe Nover vs. Rob Emerson

Mark: Nover looked amazing on The Ultimate Fighter when he was tearing through other contestants. Once he hit the UFC, however, he started losing. Nover has also not improved much; he's a guy who needed a new camp. He addressed that deficiency by going to Las Vegas and training at Xtreme Couture, but he's only been there a few months. Emerson is a jerk. Like Kyle, I'd enjoy seeing Emerson lose. I just don't think it will happen, even though Nover probably has more raw talent. Emerson, probably by decision.

Kyle: I've got nothing but contempt for Rob Emerson, a gangster wannabe who can be seen around the five-minute mark in this video beating up a stranger to make himself feel cool. Why the UFC hires Emerson to step in the cage between his stints in a cell is a mystery to me, but I hope Nover puts an end to it. I predict Nover by curb-stomping, because I like to believe that there's some justice in the world.

Melvin Guillard vs. Ronnys Torres

Mark: Guillard is an amazing physical specimen with real power, but his mind and his lack of a ground game have always hurt him. Once the fight hits the ground, Guillard is in trouble. Torres is a serious BJJ practicioner with some decent wrestling skills. So, unless Torres' brain melts and runs out his ears, he will try to take down Guillard, and Guillard will hope to stuff the take-downs long enough to connect with the huge punches he likes to throw. Guillard definitely has a puncher's chance, but I'm betting Torres gets him down and submits him. I wouldn't even be surprised to see it happen in the first round.

Kyle: Guillard's also been in and out of jail--it's all perps and old people this UFC!--but as far as I know his arrests have all been for putting cocaine up his nose rather than putting innocent people in the hospital. I'm inclined to be more forgiving. What I can't forgive is that Guillard is completely unevolved. Coming off The Ultimate Fighter, he looked like he had the athletic gifts to be the next George St. Pierre. Instead he's ended up a lightweight Mark Coleman relying on wrestling skill and raw punching power to make up for a lack of submission skills and technical striking. I pick Torres to win; if he can put Guillard on his back, it's all over.

Mac Danzig vs. Justin Buchholz

Mark: The loser of this fight is almost certain to be waving goodbye to his UFC contract within the week. Buchholz has to hope the fight stays standing up, where his kicks and punches are his only hopes for victory. Danzig, however, is better in pretty much every aspect of the game, and particularly on the ground. He's also good at getting people down. Like Guillard, Buchholz has a puncher's chance, but I'm again going with the ground guy: Danzig via submission.

Kyle: Poor Mac Danzig. There was a time in his career when he racked up a 12-fight winning streak. Now he's lost his last three fights and if he loses this one he could well become the first Ultimate Fighter winner to be cut by the UFC. Buchholz is a big step down in competition for Danzig, though. Danzig should be better at striking and grappling, and should get his arm raised in victory once again.

Now, on to the main card, the fights you have to buy the PPV to see.

Matt Serra vs. Frank Trigg

Mark: Plan to wave good-bye to Trigg after this fight, because unless he has pictures of Dana White doing it with a donkey, the UFC is bound to cut him after he loses. He's bigger than Serra, but he looks slower and slower every fight. Serra can out-strike him and submit him. Look for Serra to win largely via strikes.

Kyle: It's hard to believe that Serra and Trigg are ten years younger than Couture and Coleman, since it feels like they've been fighting as long. Serra and Trigg are both hoping that there's room for third acts in American lives. They're both hoping for one more run at the title and the first thing standing in each man's way is the other. Trigg's originally a wrestler and Serra comes from a jiu-jitsu background, but I expect this to turn into a striking war. Trigg's just a little bit older and a little bit slower, and I won't be at all surprised if Serra manages to pull of a repeat of his shock-the-world KO of Georges St. Pierre. Serra for the win.

Demian Maia vs. Dan Miller

Mark: The only way Miller wins this fight is if Maia forgets that he's a BJJ master and tries to win by striking. Maia tried that approach briefly with Marquardt, and he found himself hitting the canvas--and not by pulling guard. Maia will get Miller on the ground and submit him, probably in the first round.

Kyle: This is the losers' bracket to the Marquardt/Sonnen fight, pitting Maia (who got KOed by Marquardt at UFC 102) vs. Miller (who was decisioned by Sonnen at UFC 98). If Miller can keep the fight on the feet, he has a chance. But I don't think he can. Maia is like a beartrap on the ground. I expect him to take Miller down and lock on a submission.

Mike Swick vs. Paulo Thiago

Mark: Both men are serious middleweight contenders who have never made it to the top. Swick is the bigger man, has a reach advantage, and is a better technical striker. I expect him to fight to win, not to finish, and he should achieve his goal, probably via decision.

Kyle: By fight time, I expect Swick to look like he's a weight class bigger than Thiago. He'll be hard to take down and he'll have a big reach advantage. Swick should be able to KO Thiago standing to earn the win.

Nathan Marquardt vs. Chael Sonnen

Mark: Marquardt has been training with Greg Jackson and getting better and better. Sonnen will hope to take down Marquardt and grind out a decision, but it won't work. Marquardt will win what I expect to be one of the more entertaining fights of the night.

Kyle: This is the most interesting fight of the night. Marquardt and Sonnen have both dramatically improved their game over the last couple of years and either has the potential to be the next middleweight champion. Marquardt is the better submission grappler, and may also have the edge in striking. Sonnen is a takedown machine who can maintain an exhausting pace from the opening bell to the end of the last round. Marquardt's a heavy favorite, but I don't think his submissions are quick enough to catch Sonnen, and I think Sonnen's pace will wear him out. Sonnen for the win.

Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman

Mark: Coleman will gas quickly, and Couture will, as he does, keep on chugging. I expect an entertaining first seven or so minutes, and then Couture will take down Coleman or pin him to the fence, feed him a lot of punches, and eventually the ref will stop the fight. Couture for the win and, in a move surely designed only to put butts in seats, a shot at the light heavyweight title.

Kyle: Coleman probably has the wrestling skill and the raw power to get Couture down, but he doesn't have the conditioning to keep doing it in the second and third rounds. Look for Couture to weather the early storm, put Coleman on his back, and feed him some of his own ground-and-pound medicine. Barring a miracle, Couture will walk away the winner in the old man's war.

Need a little late-night music?

I do. I linked to a version of this song a long time ago, but that link no longer works.

I love this song. Enjoy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Draft 2 complete

I'm happy to report that very late last night I finished the second draft of Children No More. I then went through my rituals for this point in a novel:

* backed it up all over the place (I do that daily)

* printed and boxed a copy for Dave to review (he's the one person who reads each book before I send it to Publisher Toni)

* printed a copy on three-hole-punch paper and loaded that ms. into The Big Red Binder, which, along with red pens, will now travel everywhere with me.
I still have to write the afterword, but I won't do that until I've finished everything else. Otherwise, both the novel and the usual front and back matter are complete. The package is over a hundred and twenty thousand words, so buyers will get plenty of reading for their dollars.

Closer, I'm getting much closer.

I hope those of you who buy it enjoy it when you get it.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cease-fire in allergy land

If you read this blog regularly, you already know that, as the tag on this entry says, my allergy clinic hates me. To pick up my serum, which they will no longer mail to me, I have to let them administer a "vial test," i.e., let them stick me with tiny portions of each of my two serums so they can see if I react negatively. I don't. I haven't in all the years I've been taking these shots. They insist, however, on the test. To get it, I either have to drive half an hour across town or go to the place that costs me two minutes of lost driving time because it's on my way to work.

Of course I choose the close one.

The problem is, they hate that I do, because they want everyone to go to their main facility, so they've reduced the available test hours to 90 minutes a week--and not all at once. No, that would be too easy. They provide vial tests on two different days: an hour on one day, and half an hour on the other.

I was scheduled to go to the one-hour slot Tuesday morning at 8:00. Because of the snow, I couldn't get out of my driveway then, so I didn't show. I called them, but no one answered and there was no message option, so I assumed they were closed.

One of the women who works there called me Wednesday. Here's how the call went (you can tell which of us is which). In the interest of avoiding legal issues, I'll call her X and the clinic Y.

Hi, Mr. Van Name. I'm X from Y. You were scheduled to come in for a vial test Tuesday morning.

Yes, I was, but I couldn't make it due to the snow.

It was a lot of snow. [long pause] So, you didn't come.

No. I called, but no one answered, and there was no way to leave a message.

Oh, that's because we were closed that morning.
It went downhill from there. I'm proud to be able to say that at no point did I turn sarcastic or threatening; I just hung up quickly.

So, today I headed there at noon for the half-hour slot available to me.

No one greeted me. The place was open but empty.

After calling for a few times, a faint reply came from the rear of the clinic area. A few seconds later, the Chinese med tech with whom I'd argued many times in the past appeared around a corner.

He stopped as soon as he saw me.

He tilted his head and stared at me.

I stared at him.

He kept staring at me.

I kept staring at him.

I wanted in the worst way for music by Ennio Morricone to be playing and for Sergio Leone to film us in his best Once Upon a Time in the West circular, quick-cut style, but alas, I got neither.

Finally, he motioned me to come inside. He did not speak.

I entered and went to the test room.

He showed me the vials, holding them far from his body as if they were snarling beasts. "You?"

"Yes, but my address is still wrong."

He nodded. "Vial lady, she no fix. She never fix."

I couldn't argue with that, so I sat, he administered the tests, and neither of us spoke as he did his job.

"Ten minutes," he said as he set the timer.

I went to the waiting room and sat.

He came out spot on ten minutes later, checked me, nodded once, handed me the vials, and backed away, never losing sight of me until he was safely behind the thick wooden door.

I waited until he was out of sight, then left.

I consider this great progress. We've reached a cease-fire, and that's good enough for me. If the next appointment goes this well, I will not report on it.

He may hate me, but now he also either respects or fears me--and I can work with either one of those.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ever wonder how unusual your Web-browsing signature is?

Well, wonder no more. Now, you can find out, or, to be precise, get a pretty darn good idea courtesy of a nifty tool from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

EFF, if you don't know the group, is a civil liberties organization focusing on the online world. I was a member for multiple years, let my membership lapse purely from oversight, and then rejoined again a couple of years ago (or so). Though I've never found a group whose every action I supported, I come pretty close with EFF.

Most of us know that we leave behind traces of our systems as we browse the Web. Most of us accept those traces as an acceptable risk, and the more paranoid among us browse with their cookies disabled, as if that will stop Web sites from identifying them.

It's not that simple.

Browsers are able to collect a lot of data about your computer's configuration, and that data can help identify you. To get a sense of just how much data a browser collects and how unusual the resulting electronic identification is, EFF is running an experiment at its Panopticlick site. They claim they'll collect your data anonymously and compare it to a database of millions of other configurations, and I believe they're telling the truth. In other words, I believe this test is safe to take--though I caution that I base this belief solely on my trust in EFF.

To try it on your browser, click here, then click the big red TEST ME button.

I tried it on one system with cookies enabled. It declared that my browser was unique--in the correct sense of that word--among the over 562,000 they'd tested so far.

I don't like that fact, but I've never labored under the illusion that my online activities couldn't be tracked if someone really wanted to bother.

If you are browsing with that belief, or if you're just curious, let this site test your system, then decide if you want to make any changes to your browsing habits.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We’re hiring!

I rarely discuss my Principled Technologies work here, because the vast majority of what we do is highly confidential. This time, though, the topic is fair game: we’re hiring.

Specifically, we’re looking for people to fill the following roles:

* technical leads

* a proofreader

* a marketing-oriented copy writer

* a graphic designer
The proofreader job is a junior one. The tech leads should have multiple years of experience working with and managing server installations. The copy writer should have at least three years of related experience, and the graphic designer should have three to eight years of professional design experience.

A word of caution: We aren’t in a position to relocate, so you have to be in the Raleigh-Durham area (or, I suppose, willing to relocate yourself) to have a shot at any of these jobs.

We aren’t yet advertising, though we will be soon, so you heard it first here. If you’re interested, check out PT’s Web site, make certain you’re interested in what we do, be darn sure your qualifications match the above requirements, and drop me a line through the contact page on the site.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My take on the Amazon/Macmillan fracas

Enough folks have asked me questions on this topic that I figured I should chime in publicly. If you haven't heard about it, the very short form is that MacMillan wanted to change its pricing for its Kindle books, Amazon didn't like what Macmillan wanted, and so Amazon removed all MacMillan books from its virtual shelves. This action meant, among other things, that you could no longer buy my friend Dave's Tor books on Amazon. Put differently, it screwed a lot of writers out of potential sales.

My overall take is simple: What a dick move by Amazon. Amazon goes long for the fail. Etc.

For a fun and in-depth analysis, let me first refer you to this entry on John Scalzi's blog. I agree with his points, so I won't bother repeating them here.

I do also have two other key observations.

First, I don't need Amazon to protect me on pricing. If I don't like what Macmillan wants to charge for its ebooks, I don't have to buy them. That simple notion--buyers can decide for themselves--works for products of all sorts.

Of course, Amazon isn't really out to save me money. Amazon wants to sell Kindles and to control the ebook market. Well, Amazon, this approach isn't going to help you sell Kindles, and no one company will completely control ebooks. Get over yourself.

Also, what happened to transparency? Amazon is famously an Internet pioneer. Has it forgotten how much power there is in simply showing what's going on? Had they been more willing to be open, they would have come off far better.

After the book-removal mess and the stupid yanking of 1984, this third strike should signal the need for a new PR team and a new attitude at Amazon. I hope they heed the notice.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Great service is hard

I ate at many fine restaurants while in Austin and Boston. Though in most of them the food was very good but never great, many clearly aspired to greatness. They had focused on making inventive, interesting menus and on executing them as well as they could. Even when their ambition outstripped their ability, the focus was clear. To be a truly great restaurant, though, requires more than just superb food; a topnotch place must also provide great service.

In all of the restaurants I tried, the service was not up to the food.

Given their lofty goals, I couldn't help but wondering why that was the case. Restaurant service is something amenable to rules and practice. When and how to clear, when and how to serve, monitoring the guests to make sure they don't lack for water, and so on--all of these problems are small. So, why don't more places offer great service?

The answer is obvious: Great service is hard.

For one thing, it requires an obsessive focus on the customer, not on yourself. You may not want to pour water right then, but if a glass is approaching empty, you need to do it. You might want to serve the next course, but if a guest just left for the restroom, you must hold it--maybe even remake it so it arrives at the table as it should. To be a great server, you have to put the wishes of your customers ahead of your own over and over and over again. That alone is very hard.

It's even harder than it should be, however, because most restaurants don't spend enough on service. If you give a server too many tables to cover, he or she is doomed to fail. Similarly, if no one has trained you on serving on the left and taking from the right, then no one should expect you to have that data. And, of course, there's the money factor: Great servers should make livings commensurate with their skill. If that means raising the prices a bit, so be it.

Finally, great service demands a very difficult level of subjugation of your own concerns. When you deliver a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak to the man who explicitly ordered it that way, and he then declares in a loud voice that he wanted it cooked brown all the way through (an abomination, by the way), you have to take it back--even though neither you nor the kitchen did anything wrong. Dealing with difficult customers is part of the job. (I have to say that I try very, very hard never to be such a customer.)

It's no surprise, then, that great service is rare. When you find it, however, it is a joy to behold and to experience. Dine at The French Laundry or Joel Robuchon, to name but two pinnacles of service, and you will understand how good service can be. If, however, you're eating at a less lofty place and the service lags the food, try to be understanding; the odds are that the servers are understaffed, undertrained, underpaid, and doing the best they can.

And always, always, tip a full twenty percent (or more) unless you have a very specific reason for tipping less--and even then, be sure the problem you have is with the servers and not anyone else.


Blog Archive