Monday, January 28, 2013

People Are Awesome

Apparently, a lot of people put these together on a yearly basis (I can see why):

These people are awesome!  And crazy-stupid.  But mostly awesome.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Push Button To Add Drama

It's a shame that fun stuff like this doesn't happen here in the U.S.:

Button #1

Button #2

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Segway Fails

Why aren't we all riding around our own personal Segways everywhere we go just like the inventors envisioned?  Oh, right...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Upcoming Movies I Want To See

Now that we're around the corner of the new year, it's time to start looking forward to the upcoming slate of movies!  Here are some that I'm particularly looking forward to.

Start the popcorn now...
IronMan 3: Both of the first two movies in this series have been surprisingly entertaining. I've never been a fan of IronMan, but Robert Downey, Jr. strikes a perfect note of selfless narcissism that provides humor, drama, and excitement.  The character development is surprisingly good, too; hopefully this new installment will continue the trend.

GI Joe 2: Ah, what to say?  The first GI Joe movie was, at best, a shallow action flick.  But sometimes that's all it takes to be an awesomely entertaining movie.  The writing was cheesy, the acting somewhat tinny, and the plot was completely ridiculous...and it was exactly like I remember it in my mind from when I was playing with these toys when I was young.  Part 2 appears to be right on target, as well.  I can't wait!

Star Trek Into Darkness: I was very pleased with the first of the newly refreshed Star Trek series.  The characters were great, and the casting was spot on (especially with Zachary Quinto as Spock).  The only thing that stretched believability (you know, other than the obvious) was how Kirk went from a young enlisted man to Captain in the blink of an eye.  That was silly, but I suppose they had to make it happen or he wouldn't have been able to call the shots.  That being said, it looks like this round is going to really delve into his psyche and force him to grow up a bit, which is an exciting prospect.  And, I cannot imagine a better villain than Benedict Cumberbatch, who is absolutely phenomenal in Sherlock.

Eh, probably Netflix...
Man of Steel: I've never been a Superman fan.  The guy can do literally anything, so it's frankly pretty hard to imagine how anyone can ever beat him (even Luther).  I'm not saying this looks fantastic, but it appears that they're trying to make this superhero very, very human, and that could make it much, much better. 

Oblivion: Cruise just doesn't appear to age, and seems more than up to the task of this action flick.  Scifi is always a good grab for my attention, and the plot seems pretty intriguing, too.  It doesn't hurt that this one seems very like Minority Report - if it comes off that well, I'll be happy.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey team up once again in what looks sure to be a good laugher.  What remains to be seen is if this move has any heart and substance, or is just a shallow slapstick movie.  If they can pull off a Bruce Almighty-type message while delivering their considerable combined comedic superbness, this could be really fun.

Pacific Rim: Super cheesy?  Certainly.  Overly done hype?  Count on it.  Silly plot and shallow writing?  Undoubtedly.  But when was the last time we had a blockbuster movie with super-giant mech warriors fighting inter-dimensional aliens from the ocean floor?  Exactly.  Sign me up...

Dragon: Had to throw in something high class.  I'm not a terribly big fan of the Hong Kong style of people flying across the room and doing mind-bendingly awkward moves that are as fictional as the oceanic monsters in Pacific Rim...but Donnie Yen is the real deal when it comes to martial arts, and I'm pretty much a fan of anything he's in.  If there's an actual plot where good and evil, and past and present collide, well, so much the better.

I suspect The Hobbit part 2 will be the highlight of the year for me, but I haven't seen a trailer for it yet.  Don't worry, it'll come soon enough.

That's the list at the moment, but the year is just getting started...!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Everything Lots Of Things You Wanted To Know About Android Smartphone Apps

Over Christmas break one of my relatives who had just purchased the new Samsung Galaxy S III beast phone asked me point-blank: "What apps should I get for this thing?"  He indicated that he used it primarily as an actual phone (what?!) and was thus -- perhaps not surprisingly -- unimpressed with this latest/greatest Android device.  Upon further reflection, I think that's actually a great question that fortunately has a simple answer: "What do you use your phone for?"

That's really what it's all about.  If you just want a phone to make phone calls, don't bother with a smartphone and data plan.  It's overkill and a waste of your money.  If you want phone calls plus basic email and Internet browsing, it's still pretty simple, and the default apps that come on most smartphones will suffice.  But, if you want to really get your money's worth out of your smartphone, there's a whole world of apps just waiting for you to go get them.  I'm a tinkerer and I play a lot with apps, settings and features just for fun, so hopefully some of my experience can be helpful to you, especially if you're one of those who is wondering what apps you should get for this fancy (expensive) gadget you own.

Remember the commercial that established the phrase "there's an app for that?"  Honestly, no matter what you're trying to accomplish with your phone, there probably is an app to do it.  Last I knew, the Apple App Store had something like 700,000 apps in it and Google Play (the Android app store) had around 650,000.  That's not even counting the Amazon App Store, the Windows Phone app store, or any of the other smaller independent ones like Getjar.  But none of those are any good to you unless you know what you want to do, so that's the first question you need to answer.  Everything else falls into place pretty quickly after that.  Don't know what your phone is even capable of?  Well, it can do pretty much everything that a normal computer can do...just on a smaller screen, and with much better mobility.  Not everything, of course, but most of it.  So, think big, and poke around and figure out what you want.  As a starting point, here are some of the apps I've got on my phone and/or Kindle Fire (or have used in the past), a quick description about them, and a link to their location in the Google Play store (this post assumes a basic level of knowledge on how to get apps from the app store and install them).

You'll notice some potentially confusing terminology about an "app" and a "widget."  The functional difference between them is pretty huge even if they may not look much different.  Think of an app as a static application like Microsoft Word.  When you need it, you explicitly start it, do what you need to do, and close it.  In contrast, a widget is like a window into real-time information that keeps updating all the time.  It installs like an app, looks like an app, and largely functions like an app, but it's designed more to be a live information pass-through than a standalone app.  It doesn't shut down.  The only real potential downside is performance - the more widgets you use, the more potential you have for bogging down your phone (after all, these are all real-time updates that don't shut down!).  Just keep adding them until you notice things slowing down, and you'll know how much your particular phone can handle.

Oh, one more thing - Android uses some really nice cost models.  Most Android apps use either an ad-supported model where you get the app for free (but have to look at ads for other products/services while you use them) or the "freemium" model, which basically means that you can use a limited version for free but have to pay to get the full features and functionality.  Both work well because the free versions provide most of the functionality that most users need, and the hardcore users who need the full version are happy to pay for it.  It doesn't hurt that most Android apps are only $3-4 (many are less), far less expensive than most Apple apps.  I've purchased the full versions of a couple apps for just a buck or two simply to show appreciation to the developers for their free versions, and that's not uncommon in the open source world.  In some cases, developers will offer extra goodies (backgrounds or themes, etc.) that aren't essential to the app's functionality in return for payment.  Either way, everyone wins.

Now, on to the apps...and remember, this is merely a starting point!

Launchers are essentially the heart and soul of your smartphone.  When you turn on the screen, the launcher is what creates the actual arrangement of your screens and provides the basic functionality of how your phone interacts with you.  Some are designed to be fast and simple, some emphasize customization, some have tons of bells and whistles.  It's a total preference thing, so the best idea is to try several and then pick the one that works best for you.

  • Go Launcher EX - one of (if not the) biggest and best launchers on the market today; the cool thing about Go is that they have created an entire ecosystem around it - you can download add-ons for widgets, weather, contacts, themes, and other things that all integrate seamlessly (think Microsoft Office rather than Microsoft Word); the launcher itself provides incredible customization for making your phone your phone.
  • Nova - Very close to the functionality and customization of Go, but with better performance.
  • Apex, ADW.Launcher, and LauncherPro are generally well regarded, too, and there are plenty of others out there that I haven't tried.

Internet Browser
Let's be honest - one of the big reasons to have a smartphone is to have access to data and the Internet on the go.  The choice of browser is pretty big.  First off, if you're talking about Android, the stock (i.e. built in) one really isn't bad.  Give it a try first and see what you think, then check these out:

  • Chrome - This is the little brother of the desktop browser, and just as slick; the best part about this is that the built-in sync functionality allows you to access your bookmarks, passwords, and even open tabs from any of your devices.  For example, if I'm reading an article on my home PC, I can go to work, open Chrome on my phone and pick up that same article later in the day.  The only downside is that it's only available for Android 4.0+ devices, so if you have an older phone and don't see it in Google Play, that's why.
  • Firefox - This is another great browser (also the little brother version of the desktop browser), capable of tons of customization via plug-ins, and the same kind of sync'ing as Chrome.
  • Dolphin - This mobile-only browser is fast and good, with lots of customization.  If you don't care about sync'ing with other (desktop) devices, this one might be the best out there.

There are a lot of these.  No, really, I mean a lot.  Try lots, pick your favorite, and go with it.

  • 1Weather - This one has a very clean, very simple interface.  It has my favorite weather widget (see red circle in picture below) because it packs a whole lot of info in a small but useful space.  A lot more details are available if you actually open up the app itself, including long-range forecasts, alerts, radar, and so on.
  • Notification Weather - This is a really slick one I just found that actually sits like a widget in your notification area.  Another very clean and simple interface, I'm looking to play with it some more.  (I'm not 100% certain, but I think it's only available on Jelly Bean devices which are so far few and between...)
  • Weather Channel - There are lots of channel- or brand-specific weather apps out there (i.e. Go Weather, Accuweather, Google Weather, etc.), but for an intuitive interface and useful features, I like this one best.

Weather/Clock/Homescreen Widgets
There are several great apps that allow you to create widgets for your homescreen that include some combination of clocks, weather updates, the date/time, and other info in a way that many people use as a full homescreen.  I'm certain there are more than the ones I've listed below, but I've had good luck with all of these.  The green circle above shows one example of HD Widgets (the one I happen to have installed right now), but there are an almost unlimited number of iterations and styles available.  Don't get intimidated by these, it's almost as easy as point-and-tap to create them.

  • Beautiful Widgets - Probably the first big one to fulfill this niche, it has tons of customization and themes available.
  • Fancy Widgets - Essentially the same stuff as Beautiful Widgets, just not the first one.
  • HD Widgets - Ditto.

Purely for fun/entertainment

  • Angry Birds (original, Seasons, Rio, Space, Star Wars) - need I say more? If you don't know these, just give them a try for some strangely addicting fun.
  • Bad Piggies - By the same company that created Angry Birds, this is a spin-off game using the same physics engine, but the idea here is to create vehicles that the pigs (the bad guys in Angry Birds) use to navigate through obstacle courses.  This is still pretty cool, but eventually these get pretty tricky, and this isn't quite up to the level of AB.
  • Quell and Quell Reflect - A sedate strategy game with soothing music and impeccable graphics.
  • Robo Defense - Very shallow, very simple, very fun.
  • TuneIn Radio - Streaming radio on your device.
  • Words With Friends - Basically online Scrabble.
  • Netflix or QueueManager - Links to your Netflix account; the official app lets you watch stuff, but is surprisingly lacking when it comes to actually managing your queue...QueueManager, on the other hand, does a good job of that.


  • Amazon Kindle for Android - Read your Amazon ebooks on pretty much any device (Android, iPhone/iPad, desktop).  The best part about this is that all of your books are sync'd to the same page so you never have to bother with keeping track of where you are; you can also add bookmarks or notes, and you can share excerpts with others directly from the app.  Amazon did a bang-up job with this ecosystem.
  • Aldiko - The best non-Amazon reader app I've seen; good features, easy to use.
  • Bible - The biggest and best, though I've seen others (like MySword Bible) with far more tools and advanced features; this one has a verse of the day, devotions, and daily reading plans built in.


  • CircleLauncher - This great little tool lets you create widgets to give you two-tap access to groups of specific contacts or apps.  Below is a sample of both contacts and apps.  One tap on the circle launcher brings up your list, then you just tap again to run the app (or place the call, or whatever).  For contacts, if you have pictures set up then they'll show here; for an app list you see the app's native icon.  There's a vertical or horizontal configuration available, but I prefer the circles.
  • Dropbox, Box, SugarSync - Everything is tied to the cloud nowadays, so having a firm understanding of how to access online services is essential. Think of these apps as online repositories where you can store documents, music, pictures...pretty much any computer file, really.  It's all accessible as long as you have a connection (either cell service or wifi), and you can set up auto-syncing on your home computer so that files are transferred instantly between the two.  For example, let's look at vacation pictures from a few years ago (not as far back as film rolls...just digital camera pics).  What happened if you lost your camera on the trip home?  Your pics were gone, period.  Not so anymore.  Let's say you take a priceless vacation picture with your phone, which subsequently gets dropped into the lake.  The phone is gone, but your pictures were automatically uploaded to one of these services, which then sync'd them to your computer at home.  Sure, you have to replace your phone, but you'll have those priceless pics sitting on your desktop when you get home.  But what if your house burns down on the same day?  You can still rest easy knowing that the digital picture is sitting safe and sound in the cloud, and all you need to do is log into your account from any other computer to get to them.  Pretty slick, huh?  It's also extremely easy to share pictures and files with others using these services.  These are an absolute must-have for anyone using their phone as a multi-purpose device rather than just a phone.
  • Quickpic - An outstanding picture manager, much better than the standard gallery app.
  • Elixir - This is like a digital toolbox with a ton of informational and management functionality; also lots of great widgets for things like toggling wifi on/off, one-touch dialing shortcuts, etc.
  • Jot - If you need to jot down a quick thought or two for later, this is perfect.
  • AK Notepad - A great notepad app for writing/saving information; links to to sync all of your notes to an online service so you can access them from your desktop computer.
  • Llama - Named for 'location aware mobile app', and it's just that - it monitors where you are and activates rules you create depending on your location.  For example, I have mine set to automatically put my phone on vibrate when I get to work, and when I leave it turns full volume back on.  The key difference here is that it uses cell towers to determine your location rather than the GPS, which is slightly less accurate but far less demanding on battery life.
  • FoxFi - Allows your phone to become a wifi hotspot (as long as you get cell service) that your wifi-only devices (i.e. iPad, Kindle, etc.) can use to connect on the go.
  • Alarm Clock Xtrme - I'm not sure what's so extreme about it, but I do know it's easy to use and gives you a variety of options for how you want to wake up, how you shut off the snooze, and so on.


  • Lookout - The best mobile anti-virus and security app on the market, it includes remote location (and locking/wiping for the premium version), backup capability, and other features.
  • Prey - Another great remote location app if your phone ever gets lost/stolen.
  • SeekDroid - Yet another one (really, if your phone gets stolen, can you ever have too many of these hiding around your phone?).
  • WheresMyDroid - (no, no you cannot!)


  • QuickOffice - Lets you open and read Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents on your phone (if you want to edit those documents, you'll need to purchase the full version).
  • Documents To Go - Ditto, and to be honest I'm not sure I could tell you the difference between this and QuickOffice, let alone which one has better features; both are good.
  • SwiftKey - This is a replacement keyboard that suggests words as you type that it thinks you'll use next, reducing the number of keystrokes by at least 40% (if you allow it to 'learn' your email/Facebook/text messaging apps I think it's actually closer to 60%).

There are tons of these, too, but here are the ones I think are best:

  • Friendcaster - Facebook, but better than the native Facebook app.
  • Plume - Probably the best Twitter client on the market, with tons of features and a simple interface.
  • Tweetcaster - Another great Twitter client.
  • GoSMS Pro - A great text messaging app that integrates seamlessly with Go Launcher.
  • Handcent - One of the most popular text messaging apps available.

This is a gigantic segment all by itself.  If you have a favorite news/info channel (i.e. WSJ, Fox, CNN, BBC, Drudge, local stations, etc.), you can assume they have their own app and probably be correct.  News aggregators such as Pulse, Google Currents, or Flipboard pull in articles and stories from multiple sources and make it easy and fast to scan loads of headlines.  If you've made it this far through the blog post, you have the idea...just try a bunch of them and keep what you like!

Others worth mentioning
There are tons of others worth mentioning.  Music apps such as Winamp, DoubleTwist, Google Music, or countless others provide a wealth of audio enjoyment.  Administrative tools abound for keeping up with the health of your phone, and allow you to optimize the software for better performance.  There are measurement tools, conversion tools, calculators, location-based apps that do anything and everything (maps, navigation, keep track of where you parked your car, revealing constellations in the night sky, etc.), apps to check prices, apps for stores, apps for coupons, and more photo and social media apps than you can shake a stick at.  I mean it when I say there's an app for pretty much everything.

Root-required Apps
Ah, rooting.  If you're not interested in being a power user of your Android smartphone, you can skip this section.  Of course, this is where you can tap that next level of usefulness, so skipping it means leaving a lot of functionality on the table.

What is rooting?  The short version of rooting is to *ahem* acquire root-level access to your phone.  There is a bit of an ethical debate here, and while I'll dance right up to it I'm not going to dig in; instead, I'll stick to explaining the high level situation and how things work in general terms in the name of being purely informational.  There are several layers of access to a smartphone, and a gross oversimplification would be something like this:
  1. hardware layer --- what the phone is physically capable of doing
  2. OS software layer --- the native Android operating system
  3. manufacturer software layer --- what the manufacturer (i.e. Samsung, Motorola, etc.) allows the carrier to access
  4. carrier software layer --- what the wireless carrier (i.e. Verizon, AT&T, etc.) allows the consumer to access
  5. consumer software layer --- what you can access when you take your new phone out of the box
So, the consumer software is the most restricted, the carrier software is slightly less restricted than that, and so on.  The profit margins on these sophisticated devices are actually not that big, so they have to make money through paid services, and that's where this progressive lock-down comes in.  Take wifi hotspot capability on Verizon, for example.  Though the phone you buy from Verizon is perfectly capable of acting as a wifi hotspot for other nearby devices, they will use their software to shut down that capability...until you pay them the $20/mo. it takes to re-enable it.  That's the way it works, at least until the hackers enter the picture.

Android is essentially a scaled-down version of Linux, and is available to anyone as an open-sourced product to study, revise, and adapt.  It doesn't take long for hackers to slice through a new version and modify portions of the code to do all kinds of amazing things.  There's nothing wrong, illegal, or unethical about that - that's the whole point of open source code.  But, manufacturers and carriers then add their own proprietary layers of software on top of that to close off those functionalities that they want to be paid for.  [Side note - here's where the ethical debate comes in.  Manufacturers and carriers say they deserve to be paid for this advanced functionality on the products they're selling, and hackers say people paid for the phone so they deserve to get full use out of it.  I can see both sides....but again, debate isn't the intent here...]

The key is to gain "root" access.  In computer terms, a "root" user can see everything and do everything to every file on a system.  Every door is open.  So, to "root" a smartphone is to hack through the proprietary software and gain "root" access.  Once this happens, everything else becomes possible, and the consumer suddenly bypasses levels 3-5 above and leaps straight to level 2 with full access to all the software on the device.  This opens up an incredible amount of power and allows the user to tap into the full hardware and software capability of the phone.

There are a number of good reasons to want this access.  Here are a few of the biggest ones:
  1. Wifi.  I used the wifi example above for a reason - this is huge for a lot of people, especially as carriers have revoked unlimited data plans over the past couple years.
  2. Backups.  The lousy 'backups' that the carrier apps perform are incomplete at best, and totally useless at worst.  Once you're rooted, you can make complete backups of everything on your phone (this is good for obvious reasons).  Many apps have two components - the executable app itself, and the data that stores the state of the user's progress in the app.  Let's say you pass all levels of Angry Birds with 3 stars and then buy a new phone.  When you install Angry Birds on the new phone, you've got exactly the same app as you did before...but you start over with zero stars because the data component remained on the old phone.  With a rooted backup process you can capture both the app and the data, package it up in numerous ways, upload it to Dropbox, copy it to a removable SD card...whatever you want to do to preserve it and/or import it to your new phone.  The point is you've got access to it, so you don't have to lose it.  
  3. Customization.  With root access you can change fonts, colors, shapes, sizes, pictures...everything.  This isn't just the cosmetic changes that themes perform, either, this is actually re-writing the files themselves to alter the way your phone looks and works.
  4. Bloat removal.  Most smartphones come pre-installed with junk apps that try to sell you additional software or force you to use their own functionality to do things.  For example, Verizon has their own navigation app that they want you to use.  It's okay but it lacks the seamless integration with Google's other services that Google Maps has.  And yet, when I try to navigate somewhere, it has an aggravating insistence on using the Verizon app rather than Google Maps.  The carriers know this is annoying, too, so that bloatware is built into their proprietary software and the consumer can't remove it.  However, with root access you can freeze or remove that bloatware so it never bothers you again.
  5. New/Modified ROMs.  A smartphone's operating system is also referred to as a "ROM", which is a throwback to the old "read only memory" of long ago.  To draw an understandable comparison to a desktop computer, consider this your Microsoft-approved version of Windows.  Well, believe it or not, the manufacturers and carriers aren't the only ones with talented code monkeys, and there are lots of independent developers who create fully functional ROMs of their own.  Similar to the motivation behind using a non-stock launcher app, ROMs are designed for different purposes.  Sometimes they're exactly the same as the native Android, but with the carrier bloat removed prior to installation; sometimes they've got a particular theme or color scheme built in; some may have specialized functionality like oversized fonts and buttons.  Whatever can be coded can be made into a new ROM.  You can also package up the entire ROM running on your phone and save it off as a backup; if something goes wrong on your phone, you can simply import the old ROM and you're instantly back up and running.  By working with the entire ROM, you don't even have to install individual apps again - it's like capturing a snapshot of your entire Windows desktop computer, but for your phone.
There are plenty more reasons, of course, but these seem to be the ones I consistently see as being the most valid.  There is a trade-off to pursuing root, though.  First, it will invalidate any warranty remaining on your device.  Second, you may screw something up and ruin your phone.  Third, you may do everything right and still ruin your phone.  Call it the Spiderman Principle: with great power comes great responsibility.

As I said before, root level access lets you do anything you want to any file on there...including blowing something away or messing with something that you shouldn't have.  An extra complication is the fact that each phone is different, so a thoroughly tested and perfected rooting method for the Galaxy S III probably won't work on the Razr Maxx HD (it might not even work on another Samsung phone, much less a different manufacturer).  So there's plenty of risk involved.  This post is already long enough so I won't go into where to find this information and guidance.  If you really want to know you can contact me directly and I'll be happy to help you.

All of that is the foundation for the list of my favorite root level apps:

  • Titanium Backup - This is probably the biggest name in root apps and backups.  You can backup everything manually or by a schedule, automatically upload your backups to one of several cloud storage services, and perform a dizzying array of other import/export things that I haven't even begun to explore.  It's got loads of functionality that I assume a developer would find incredibly useful, too, all for just a few bucks.
  • Root Explorer - The stock file manager is only allowed access to certain parts of your phone; this one uses root access to get to everything.
  • ROM Toolbox - Another personal favorite is this toolbox.  It is truly a work of art, containing many of the same backup and development functionalities of Titanium Backup; it includes a root browser (like Root Explorer), a complete theme changer, the ability to change your phone's boot animation or individual system icons, numerous performance enhancement tools, an ad blocker (when this is used in combination with many of the afore-mentioned ad-supported apps, you have essentially the full app for free)...the list is gigantic.  It's an incredible amount of stuff, especially for just $5.
  • ROM Manager.  This is another giant in rooted apps.  Remember how I mentioned you could install a completely different "OS" or swap out the entire ROM at once?  ROM Manager is one of the best tools to automate that process and allow you to do it smoothly and (hopefully) without error.
  • Airdroid.  This is another one I've just recently found.  It connects your phone to your computer, making it extremely easy to transfer files to/from your phone, copy URLs or contacts, or any of a number of other tasks that are pretty tedious otherwise.  No cables, no drivers, just a standard browser.
  • Light Flow.  Lets you control the notifications on your phone (LED light, ringtones, vibration, etc.) per app; the free version gives you good functionality, but you'll need to purchase the full version to get all the goodies.
  • Wifi Tether.  Wifi, anyone?
And so on, and so on.  I think you get the point by now.  The bottom line is that your smartphone can do so much more than make phone calls.  It truly is an integrated communications hub combined with a digital multi-tool that can do just about anything you need.

All you have to do is imagine, then go looking.  Hopefully this has helped you do that.
Happy Android-ing!

Friday, January 4, 2013


Well, now that the dust has settled, the Ducks have convincingly won the Fiesta Bowl, 35-17.

First, my gripes.  I'm generally not one to gripe about officiating, but the officials blew several rather obvious calls early in the game, including two terribly late out-of-bounds tackles.  It's impossible to know how much difference that kind of thing can make, but an extra 30 yards and some significant momentum is a heckuva boost in the early stages of a game.  Those were just plain blown.  Then, with about 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Barner took a left sweep and slid to a halt, allowing the clock to keep running.  The only problem is that he clearly went out of bounds before beginning the slide, but they signaled for the clock to keep running.  Another blown call.  I saw several instances of Oregon holding early on that didn't get called, too.  I give the refs a C- on this one.  For what it's worth (which isn't much).

Now, for the game itself.  As I mentioned before, the key was which team would force the other out of its preferred style of play.  Aside from the opening kick-off return, K-State actually did the better job of it in the first half.  The game was slow, they moved the ball well and won the time of possession battle, and they more or less shut down the potent Ducks offense by controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  But...they missed a couple of opportunities to put points on the board at the end of those drives.  That was killer, especially in a game where every point was absolutely critical.  Even so, being down by only 5 points at the end of the first half would have played directly into K-State's strength and I think would have led to a whole lot of confidence in the second half.  Even with that last Oregon scoring drive right before halftime that put the Ducks up by 12, it still felt like it was anyone's game.

However, the Ducks came out in the second half, grabbed the momentum early, and never let go.  Their lines -- both offense and defense -- controlled the line of scrimmage, especially in smothering Klein's ability to run.  I give the K-State defense all the credit in the world for holding that lethal offense to just 35 points on the night - there was a tipping point midway through the third quarter where it seemed like Oregon was on the verge of blowing the game wide open, but the Cats' defense continued battling and kept things relatively under control.  Unfortunately, the Wildcat offense was inept at that point in the game, and by the time it got something going again it was too little too late.  The Ducks outplayed them throughout the second half, and the tiny thread of hope that remained was really not even that.

K-State made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes, especially in regard to stupid, stupid penalties.  Several false starts provided self-inflicted wounds on drives that couldn't afford mistakes.  Missed field goals were huge, and the fact that they were going for field goals rather than touchdowns was even bigger.  They didn't seem to have a sense of urgency about them until midway through the 4th quarter, at which time it was too late even if they had been able to score at will.  I was surprised at the lack of big plays - I would have bet money that Snyder would have found at least a few loopholes in the Oregon scheme that could have been exploited at key times, but it didn't seem like anything worked out.

All in all, the self-inflicted mistakes and offensive struggles were too significant to overcome against such a tremendously talented Oregon team.  There were no turnovers in K-State's favor to help balance the speed scales, and the Ducks owned the second half.  Congrats, Oregon, you've earned your win!

While it was a tremendously disappointing finish to the year, let's keep things in perspective: K-State was projected in the preseason to be 6th in the league but ended up winning it, with an 11-1 regular season record.  They saw a #1 ranking, had a Heisman finalist, landed themselves in a BCS game, and will likely finish with a top-10 ranking.  They followed up last year's explosion onto the national scene with an even better year.  What's not to love?  It was a GREAT year, and one that -- after the sting of tonight wears off -- we should all be proud of.  Well done, Wildcats, well done.  We'll see you next year!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tonight's The Night!

K-State plays against Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl tonight, and I couldn't be more excited for it.  I wish this had been the national championship game, but that was simply not to be this year.  First, the official preview:


So, here are my admittedly amateur thoughts.

I think the key will be which team is able to force the other out of its preferred style of play.  Oregon wants to play FAST, snapping the ball almost immediately (every 11 seconds or so, if I recall correctly...real time, not game time).  They want the score to be in the atmosphere, and they want to rely on their speed and quick striking offense to create pressure for the Cats to keep up.  On the other hand, KSU plays a grinding ball control offense, which means slow and steady, closing the vise throughout the first three quarters and finally throttling the life out of its opponent at the end.  Both teams have been brutally effective this year, but in almost polar opposite ways.  The contrast in styles should present a festival of eye candy and intrigue as the coaching acumen involved and the extra time off to heal up will likely give us some surprises.

I think the first quarter will strongly indicate the eventual winner.  If Oregon jumps out to a big lead fast, I think K-State will have a really hard time keeping up.  They have passed effectively, but their bread and butter is a pounding running game that forces extra defenders into the box, resulting in open receivers and big plays.  They're not built to score tons of points through the air.  They've started slowly in most games this year, but doing so tonight will likely be a death knell.  If Oregon is up big after Q1, I think it could get ugly.  On the other hand, if Klein and the Wildcat offense is able to stay on the field for extended periods of time and finish off with scores, thus keeping the game close (or even pulling head) early, I think it bodes ill for Oregon as the Wildcat machinery only picks up speed once it gets rolling.

But, it's not necessarily that simple.  There are some wild cards involved, too.  Even if Oregon should find itself behind, they're never out of the game due to their capacity to score quickly.  Whereas most coaches will find relative comfort in a two- or three-possession lead, I don't believe that's the case with Oregon.  Time of possession will be critical, too.  The Wildcat defense has a monumental challenge in containing and slowing the Oregon hyper-attack, and it needs the offense to give them plenty of rest if it's going to be able to do so for four quarters.  Cleanliness of play and turnovers are both great equalizers in a game like this.  K-State is one of the least penalized teams in the country this year, and has one of the best turnover margins in college football.  Nothing is quite so demoralizing as having touchdowns called back due to penalties or losing much-needed possessions to turnovers.  If the Wildcats continue both of those trends, they will give themselves a huge advantage that will help compensate for less overall team speed.  

I think Oregon's schedule failed to prep them for a team like KSU.  They haven't played a tough schedule; only seven of their opponents are playing in bowl games (but more than half lost), and the only time they faced a high-level grinding, pounding opponent, they lost.  Their defense is almost an afterthought, giving up huge numbers of points in game after game this year.  I don't see any way they can completely shut down Klein & Co., but I think that if KSU is close or ahead after Q1, then the Cats will stand a very good chance of thoroughly wearing down the Duck defense with lots of time left on the clock.  When they've done that this year, they've blown out their opponents.  Speaking of K-State's opponents, they've played 8 bowl teams (more than half have won), and they have already throttled pass-happy teams in West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  Only Baylor was able to get the better of them, and that was due largely to the combination of abnormally high turnovers and playing TCU the week before (fun fact - every Big 12 team lost the week after playing TCU due to the tremendous physical pounding they took at the hands of the Horned out for them next year!).  They faced and beat multiple top-10 teams (at the time they played), and played more ranked teams in a tougher conference top to bottom.  They may not have seen quite the level of speed as Oregon, but they're also not completely foreign to the task.

I think a very interesting breakdown of trivia can be found here, illustrating just how these two teams compare:

Kansas State’s Team Efficiency/Discipline

1. Kansas State averages 10.1 fewer points per game than Oregon this season, but that does not mean its offense is any less efficient. Kansas State scored a touchdown on 40 percent of its offensive drives and is averaging 3.5 points per drive, tied with Oregon for the second-most in FBS.

2. Kansas State’s average drive starts at its own 41; their opponents at their own 27. The Wildcats’ plus-14 field-position differential is 4 yards better than any other FBS school.

3. The Wildcats are tied with Kent State for the best turnover margin (plus-21) in FBS this season. They had not allowed a point off of a turnover until Week 11 against TCU.

4. Kansas State is committing 3.5 penalties per game, second-fewest in FBS.

5. Oregon leads the nation in first-half scoring margin, but Kansas State has been the best second-half team in the nation (plus-12.8) largely because of its ability to force turnovers. The Wildcats have forced 16 turnovers in the second half that have led to an FBS-best 98 points off turnovers.

Oregon’s Speed/Scoring

1. Oregon is averaging one point every 32.9 seconds of possession, twice the rate of the average FBS team (65.8 seconds per point).

2. The Ducks are averaging a touchdown every 11.8 plays this season, the best rate in FBS. Kansas State is third in the nation, averaging 12.8 plays per touchdown.

3. Oregon leads the FBS in offensive touchdown drives that lasted one minute or less (22) and two minutes or less (44) this season. The Ducks are averaging 2 minutes, 7 seconds per touchdown drive and are in the top three of FBS in points per game for the third straight year.

4. Oregon averages more points in the first half (31.3) than 72 FBS teams average in a game. The Ducks’ average halftime lead is 22.3 points, and the only time that they trailed after halftime was after the last play of overtime in their loss to Stanford.

The Oregon Duck mascot does push-ups every time Oregon scores, with the number of push-ups equaling the number of points Oregon has at that point in the game. The Duck has done 2,735 pushups this season and is averaging over 225 push-ups per game. With four scores on Thursday, the Duck will probably exceed its previous high of 2,790 push-ups done in 2010. 


Basically, it's strength vs. strength in a whole lotta facets of this game.  There are so many reasons that this should be an awesome game to watch!

So, what's my prediction?  Most of the punditry seems to be leaning about 55/45 toward Oregon, but few would be surprised if K-State wins.  I'll say it this way:

- chances that Oregon wins big: 35%
- chances that Oregon wins close: 15%
- chances that K-State wins close: 40%
- chances that K-State wins big: 10%

I admit it that I'm an optimist.  I'm going to land on the perfect storm a la the Big 12 Championship in 2003 over what was at the time being called the greatest college football team in history...and that got pounded 35-7 by the Cats: K-State wins big.  I think this K-State team is that good, and I think that Snyder will have some surprises in store for the Ducks that will all but put this one away.

To close things out, here's a...slightly different preview from one of my favorite shows (of which two of the headline actors are K-State and Oregon alums):

No matter what happens, any season with 11 wins, a top-10 final ranking, and a trip to a BCS bowl is a success.  Go Cats!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013