Thursday, July 6, 2017

One Year Later: Why I Quit Playing Pokémon GO

Yes, I was one of "them."

Pokémon still appeals to the kid in me. I still have all my old Pokémon Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games from when I was a preteen. And yes, I still play them from time to time whenever I am incredibly bored.

But one year ago today, a new game, a revolutionary game, Pokémon GO, made its official debut in the US.

I hopped on the bandwagon of people who became addicted to this awesome, great, fun, incredible, stop-me-whenever-you-like game. And while it took me almost ten months of playing it, one sunny afternoon in late April (while riding in a Toyota van in Mérida, Mexico of all places), I decided that I had had enough, and I deleted the app from my smartphone.

Let me make one thing very clear. I did not stop playing this game because of problems with the game itself. There's nothing inherently wrong with it. I don't blame Nintendo, Niantic, or any one individual company for the problems the game has caused.

That's not to say the game is perfect, however. The technical glitches (particularly this time last year when virtually every single millennial in the United States with an iOS or Android device was playing it, causing the servers to crash) were quite frustrating. And unlike the traditional Pokémon video games, there was no goal. No end game. No player vs. player battle. Just walk around and catch as many virtual critters as possible. Maybe stop at a "gym" every once in a while. Spin the blue "Pokéstop" discs to earn free items. Or pay actual US currency for said items if there aren't enough Pokéstops in your area. (Trust me. There are far too many where I live.)

Does this not seem repetitive? Boring? Pointless?

Well, I guess all video games are to a certain extent, so considering I have over two hundred different games in my collection for nearly a dozen different consoles, who am I to make that argument...

(Photo: The News Journal)
No, scenes like this are why I quit. The problem is not the game itself; it's "them." It's the people. The people who play it.

Particularly, the people who play it in historic Old New Castle.

It was specifically this article from The News Journal that disillusioned me beyond repair. (Click on the link if you want the full story. I'm not interested in repeating too many of the details on this blog.) I live in historic Old New Castle, which used to be a quiet little town but has now turned into the best place in the entire tri-state area to play the game, causing incredible trouble-making and disruption.

One resident even went so far as to say, "It is actually why I put my house on the market."

I'll give you credit, Niantic. When you instigate something that causes people to relocate, you've done something quite impressive, for better or worse...

Sandy and Binney Beale, personal friends and neighbors, and
perhaps the most outspoken critics of the game...and the city's
lack of control over it. (Photo: The News Journal)
Now, one could argue that the game is actually helping the city. There's more traffic than ever before, which means that local business has picked up and people are getting a free history lesson in an old, historic town all while playing the game they love, right?

Nope. Not at all.

How wonderful.

Now, don't get me wrong. I personally was always on my best behavior. I never went into the gardens to take care of business at 2:30 in the morning. But others were. And they were doing several other unflattering things too.

You know how inserting just a few tone-deaf "singers" screaming at the top of their lungs into a choir can make the whole group sound awful?

Well, more than a few mischievous players were doing the same thing to folks like me when it comes to this game.

So there you have it: short, sweet, simple, and to the point. I could go on about how the lack of in-game updates and repetitive features made the game boring, or how it used up too much of my data, or took up too much storage, but this is the main reason.

I no longer wanted to be one of "them."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Opinion: Ten Drivers who Could Replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes

Okay, let's face it. Nobody saw this coming. Sure, I believe Lewis Hamilton when he says he was "not surprised," but come on, there's no way he was expecting it.

Nevertheless, in the words of Drew Breese, "The hottest girl in school is without a prom date at the moment." So who could possibly take Nico Rosberg's place at Mercedes in 2017? Well, it certainly won't be Sebastian Vettel, who reaffirmed his commitment to winning the championship with Ferrari, but after that, it's really anyone's guess. Here's a list of ten possible names that I would consider, ranked in order of likelihood.

1. Pascal Wehrlein

No, this image is not one of those photoshopped pictures circulating the Internet of virtually every possible candidate to replace Rosberg. This really is Wehrlein in a Mercedes firesuit. Wehrlein is already under contract with Mercedes as a development driver and is my pick to be Mercedes' second driver next season. Wehrlein did quite well in his first season with Manor, scoring the team's only point of the season in Austria. For reference, Manors don't finish in the points every day; the late Jules Bianchi's heroic drive at Monaco in 2014 (back when the team was known as Marussia) is the only other time the team has scored a points-paying finish in its seven-year history. Wehrlein may only have one year of experience under his belt, but that's one more year than Hamilton had in 2007 when McLaren gave him an F1 ride. And what happened that season? The championship came all the way down to the chequered flag in Brazil that year, with Hamilton losing it by a single point.

Odds: 3-2

2. Valtteri Bottas

Bottas already has links to Mercedes as well; he's currently under contract with Williams, a team that utilize the Mercedes power units. Bottas is another young, talented driver, and Williams' Mercedes engines have served the team well, giving him nine podium finishes in the last three seasons. He has also consistently outpaced his teammate, finishing ahead of Felipe Massa in the final points standings each of the last three seasons. If Bottas can get out of his contract with Williams, he may seem like the best candidate if Mercedes don't want to promote Wehrlein too quickly. Of course, that would leave an opening at Williams, and Toto Wolff may not want to put the Grove-based team in that situation. One thing Williams could not do is ask Toto to convince his wife, Susie (their former test driver), to come out of retirement. The couple is expecting their first child.

Odds: 2-1

3. Fernando Alonso

All jokes and internet memes (like the one pictured above) aside, it's been a difficult two seasons for Alonso. His return to McLaren has been dreadful (here's a fairly accurate five-minute summary of Alonso's 2015 season). While the team have worked hard to improve, and the Honda engine seems to not be as far down on power as it once was, the double world champion isn't getting any younger. If he really wants a shot at a third world title, he may need to go to a team in contention to compete now. Plus, we would get to see a Hamilton-Alonso pairing again. Wouldn't that be something worth watching...

Odds: 3-1

4. Esteban Ocon

Like everyone else on this list so far excluding Wehrlein, Ocon already has a contract for next season. Force India are likely keen on keeping the talented young driver, though he does have a Mercedes development contract as well, so it would not be unprecedented to see him earn a promotion. While he failed to score points after coming to Manor the second half of the year, he held his own against his highly-touted teammate and is a driver Mercedes would be foolish not to at least consider.

Odds: 5-1

5. Carlos Sainz Jr.

I just finished reading former Red Bull driver Mark Webber's memoir, Aussie Grit. Let me tell you, the Red Bull Junior Programme run by the mastermind that is Helmut Marko really is boom-or-bust for these young drivers; boom if your name is Sebastian Vettel, bust if your name is Sébastien Bourdais. For Sainz, it may end up looking like bust if he wants to stay with the Red Bull family. Given the senior team already have both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen locked into contracts through 2018, the only way Sainz can be promoted from Toro Rosso is if one of them gets a buyout and goes elsewhere. So why not give Toto a call and see what happens?

Odds: 10-1

6. Nico Hülkenberg

Hülkenberg has 115 starts to his name...and zero podium finishes, not necessarily because he's a bad driver, but because he has always been in midfield equipment. At the moment, Ocon is expected to fill the void Hülkenberg has created at Force India, as the latter is poised to move to Renault next season after signing a two-year contract. While the move may be a good one in the long-term, Renault are unlikely to immediately challenge for wins next year and Rosberg's departure could lead to Hülkenberg exploring the option of a move to Mercedes. Given the others on this list, however, consider Hülkenberg a long shot, especially given that his contract with Renault will be difficult to get out of.

Odds: 15-1

7. Max Verstappen

I know, I know, Christian Horner's "hands off" warning and a contract through 2018 make the 19-year-old race winner a long shot as well. But it would make for extremely great entertainment if Verstappen made the move to the Mercs. The young Dutchman has already broken numerous records and would certainly break more if he found himself in a seat next to Hamilton. Of course, Red Bull are keen are keeping Verstappen, but at least the young driver is having some fun with Mercedes on social media...

Odds: 25-1

8. Jenson Button

Could one driver's retirement lead to another one's comeback? Probably not. Button has openly admitted he's fallen out of love with the sport and almost retired after 2015. That being said, his world championship came with Mercedes' predecessor Brawn GP in 2009, but it would still take a lot to lure the 36-year-old out of retirement for a second time.

Odds: 100-1

9. Mick Schumacher

Granted, it's a pipe dream with virtually no chance of happening. But it's an awesome pipe dream with virtually no chance of happening. Mick's father is of course Michael Schumacher, often considered the greatest driver in Formula One history. While he's mainly known for his time with Benetton and Ferrari, Schumacher came out of retirement in 2010 to drive for Mercedes. While he did not have nearly as much success, he helped build the team into what it is today. Mick is still racing in Formula 4 and is younger than I am, but he's already proving to be an impressive talent. He'll be in Formula One someday, but it would almost be fitting for him to replace Rosberg, a teammate to his father for three seasons.

Odds: 1000-1

10. Pastor Maldonado

We miss seeing this, Pastor. Really, we do. And we wish you nothing but the best. But don't even bother giving Toto a call. Not even all the Venezuelan oil in the world could get you this ride.

Odds: See odds for Kanye West winning the United States Presidential election in 2020.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Remembering Dan Wheldon: Five Years Later

Five years ago today, the IndyCar Series lost one of its most talented drivers ever in Dan Wheldon, who was killed a tragic accident in Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In the days leading up to this anniversary, I knew I wanted to post something but wasn't quite sure what I was going to write. As it turns out, I'm not going to write much at all. Instead, I'm just going to let you sit back, relax, and watch ABC's tribute video from the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Also included is the finish from the 2011 Indianapolis 500, Wheldon's final victory and one of my personal all time favorite races.

We miss you, Dan. The IndyCar Series (and motorsport in general) is a better, safer place today because of you. Rest in peace.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The NBA All-Star game NEEDS some sort of change

Clearly. If you watched even a few minutes, you know what I mean. This is a almost a disgrace to the game of basketball. The Eastern Conference scored 173 points. And lost. There's a simple explanation for this: no player wants to play hard defense and risk injury in a game that counts for absolutely nothing.

So what solution do I have to offer? One option is to make the game like it is in the MLB. The winning league in the MLB receives home field advantage in the World Series regardless of the AL and NL pennant winners' records at the end of the season. I mean, don't you think LeBron James and Steph Curry, players who are likely to meet again in the 2016 NBA Finals, would have played harder if home court advantage in the Finals had been on the line?

The dunk contest was great (if you ask me, Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon should have been co-champions). The three-point contest was better than ever. But the All-Star game should really be the opening act of the All-Star weekend, rather than the main event, if the Western conference is going to keep putting up 196 points...

Monday, February 1, 2016

Farewell, Crashtor...

In breaking news that will shock the Formula One world (*sarcasm*), Pastor Maldonado, or as we like to call him, "Crashtor" Maldonado, will not return to the Lotus-Renault F1 team in 2016. This had been rumored for about a week, though Maldonado himself confirmed it today and it appears former McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen will replace him.

This would not be the only time Pastor Maldonado's ever gone off track...
This should not come as a major surprise. Maldonado has become infamous for his tendency to crash, which I have tried to imitate a few times myself. In fact, there's an entire website dedicated to answering the question: "Has Maldonado crashed today?". Additionally, Maldonado has not had much success on the track even when he brings the car home in one piece, save a fluke win in 2012 when Williams found something in Pirelli's tyres the other teams could not. So why has Maldonado been able to hang on to his seat for so long?

The simple one-word-answer is, perhaps obviously, money.

Maldonado's long-time sponsor, Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA, has backed him since the start of his career. Because Maldonado is Venezuelan, it makes sense that the company would give teams monetary incentive to allow him to remain in the sport. But Venezuela is struggling economically right now and PDVSA is in a bit of debt, which makes it difficult to pay those sponsorship bills.

Right now, Maldonado's chances of being on the grid in 2016 don't look good, as Manor are the only team that have yet to confirm their driver lineup for the season. (Please, Manor, put America's own Alexander Rossi in your one of your two cars. The guy can drive.)

Honestly, part of me would have released Maldonado a long time ago.

Then again, considering how much an '07 Toyota RAV4 costs, I'm pretty sure I'd be willing to take $25 million from PDVSA if the only cost is to have our own car crashed and replaced seven times...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Quick update

Well guys, not too much unusual has happened the past two weeks, part of why I didn't post anything last weekend. The boys' basketball team just picked up their second win of the season and first in the Varsity MIL division, which was exciting. There was a bit of a break in the snow this morning, at which point some were saying 10 inches were on the ground, though with the drifts, it's going to be virtually impossible to measure this accurately. We'll see if the snow sticks around long enough to even cause a delay on Monday; my money's on a normal start time, which, to be honest, is what I'm hoping for so that we don't lose another day of thesis meetings. Until then, enjoy the snow!