Bracketology (The Hard Way) 2015

“Bracketology” (the “science” of predicting the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament) has become a big business on the web. There are loads of free sites offering opinions on which teams will get into the tournament, what their seeds will be, and in which regions they will be placed. There are also boodles of pay sites out there, where you can give your hard-earned cash to other “experts” who will handicap the field for you.

I’m not sure what the benefit of this approach might be, since (to the best of my knowledge) there’s not a big gambling pool out there before Selection Sunday. But someone must be buying (for reasons mysterious), because if they weren’t, then these dudes (and they are all dudes) would not be selling. Go figure.

When they market their services, most of the free and paid sites will offer stats like “Picked 67 of 68 teams last year!” The thing is, though, that they base those claims on their final set of picks, made in the hour between the end of the last conference tournament and the announcement of the first pairing in the big tournament. At this point, they knew 31 of the 68 teams, since conference winners get automatic bids. They also know who stepped up in post-season play, and who flaked out. This seems, to me, like easy pickings.

I, on the other hand, like to do it the hard way: before the conference tournaments get going. Which happens tomorrow, so here are my picks for the 68 teams in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, by conference (with number of teams in each conference in parentheses):

America East (1): Albany
American (4): Tulsa, Southern Methodist, Temple, Cincinnati
Atlantic 10 (4): Dayton, Davidson, Rhode Island, Virginia Commonwealth
ACC (6): Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State
Atlantic Sun (1): Florida Gulf Coast
Big 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State
Big East (6):Villanova, Butler, Providence, Georgetown, St. John’s, Xavier
Big Sky (1): Eastern Washington
Big South (1): Coastal Carolina
Big Ten (6): Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana
Big West (1): UCalifornia-Davis
Colonial (1): William and Mary
Conference USA (1): Louisiana Tech
Horizon (1): Valparaiso
Ivy (1): Harvard
Metro Atlantic (1): Iona
Mid-American (1): Central Michigan
Mideastern Athletic (1): North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley (2): Wichita State, Northern Iowa
Mountain West (3): Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State
Northeast (1): St. Francis (New York)
Ohio Valley (1): Murray State
Pac-12 (3): Arizona, Utah, Oregon
Patriot (1): Bucknell
Southeastern (5): Kentucky, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Georgia, Mississippi
Southern (1): Chattanooga
Southland (1): Stephen F. Austin
Southwestern Athletic (1): Texas Southern
Summit (1): South Dakota State
Sun Belt (1): Georgia State
West Coast (2): Gonzaga, Brigham Young
Western Athletic (1): New Mexico State

Oscar By The Numbers: Time To Tweak the Model?

On Oscar nomination day this year, I confidently predicted in this post that The Imitation Game would capture Best Picture honors this year, based on a mathematical model I developed some years ago, and which is described more fully in the link.

I was obviously wrong: Birdman took the title instead, as many pundits predicted it would. So is it time for me to scrap my own model?

I don’t think so. Let’s review what the model predicted in the first hours after the nominees were announced, before all the ensuing media kerfuffle. Here’s the key quoted segment from the original article, with the numbers:

So what happens when you load this year’s Best Picture nominees into the database and crunch the numbers? You get these results:

  • The Imitation Game: 59.7%
  • Birdman: 57.2%
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: 52.3%
  • Boyhood: 41.3%
  • American Sniper: 34.9%
  • Whiplash: 33.5%
  • The Theory of Everything: 29.9%
  • Selma: 0.9%

That’s a pretty tight contest between the top three films, and I’m somewhat pleased and gratified to see that Boyhood is not among the leaders, even though as I type this people are gushing about it as the shoo-in favorite after its Golden Globes performance.

The model did identify Birdman as a tight second place finisher, so that was not too far off the mark. The model also predicted that Boyhood did not really have a chance at the big prize — at a point in time when “everyone” had already earmarked it as the year’s favorite. I’m pleased with that result, too.

From a bettor’s standpoint, “Best Picture” is obviously a win or lose, all or nothing prospect, and so in that way, the model failed. But it didn’t fail by much, with only a 1.5% prescriptive difference between my pick and the actually winner, and the presumed favorite (at the time) accurately relegated to also-ran status. So I don’t think that it’s ready for the scrap heap quite yet.

I do, however, think I need to figure out a way to factor in one significant change in the nominating and award process that occurred after I developed the model: the new opportunity for the number of Best Picture nominations to be greater than the number of all of the other categories. This must have an impact on the way that the historical five-to-five correlations map onto recent and current years, though I have to figure out exactly what that impact might be, and how to capture it.

But I think that’s a minor tweak, at most, and not a full revamp. So watch this space on Oscar Nominating Day 2016, when I’ll be back to boldly call it again — and hopefully won’t lose another squeaker!

Kort Mengeling

1. My longest internet loyalty has unquestionably been to Yahoo, which I have been regularly browsing for 20+ years. My first online experiences (other than pre-Internet work communications through ARPANet and other early precursors) were through the moderated portals at CompuServe in 1993, but when I ventured forth on my own into the wild and wooly early World Wide Web in 1994, Yahoo was my portal of choice. My first personal e-mail address was “gnhn@yahoo.com,” and that’s still my Yahoo ID for fantasy sports and other such log-in required activities. I also viewed the Yahoo Sports Portal as the greatest evolution in the genre since the early days of the USA Today Sports Page, and it has been my go-to site for basketball scores, hockey standings, football stats and other jock-related nerd stuff since the mid-1990s. But this is all over now: in recent years, I’ve grown increasingly sick of having to wade through endless meaningless articles and photos and click bait pieces about Kardashians and Miley Cyrus and the like, but the clincher for me has been Yahoo’s more recent (and disturbing) practice of putting fake science news into the mix of idiocy, which I cannot abide. I’ve used LeechBlock to put all Yahoo domains on 24/7/365 shutdown on all my computers, and have sought alternatives for the things I really need and want to see. The last time I did this was for a major commercial site was for the Weather Channel’s awful portal, which also combines pop culture nonsense, bad science and click bait with a dangerous proclivity for generating weather-related hysteria — and that decision led me to regularly use the far superior, “just the facts, ma’am” National Weather Service site at weather.gov. I look forward to finding similar new and high-quality portals for sports, entertainment, political and science news in the months ahead, as I am no longer distracted by Yahoo’s rampant idiocy. Farewell, old friend. You betrayed us all for money.

2. The weather has been generally hideous out here in the heartland of late, but just before we went to Florida, I did get the chance to take a long drive out to Iowa’s northwest corner. As has been my practice for the three-plus years we’ve lived in Iowa, I always look for new ways to get to old places, as I continue trying to experience and see the state at the most granular level possible. And as also been my practice, I notate the roads I’ve driven on the increasingly battered paper map that I purchased when I first crossed the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities with two angry cats in November 2011. Here’s what it looks like these days. I’m pretty sure that 99% of native Iowans haven’t driven as much of the State as I have at this point.

Vroom! Vroom! (Click to Enlarge).

Vroom! Vroom! (Click to Enlarge).

3. And, of course, it’s really not an Iowa road trip unless there are dirt roads involved, so I enjoyed roaring down this one just east of Beebeetown for a half hour or so, generating towering plumes of dust in my wake. It’s hard to believe how different this and so many similar Iowa scenes look in summertime when the crops are tall and green, or in autumn when tall brown husks define the horizon as far as the eye can see, or in spring, when tilling reveals the rich, dark soil that lies beneath these quiescent winter fields. I’m ready for the dead season to end.

Winter driving, east of Beebeetown, Iowa.

Winter driving, east of Beebeetown, Iowa.

4. Speaking of quiescent winter states, I recently made one final set of updates and put Indie Moines into permanent sleep mode, thusly: Keep Calm and Listen to Napalm Death.

5. And which Napalm Death should you listen to first? Why, their extraordinary new album, Apex Predator — Easy Meat. I think it’s one of the best albums ever, with the usual grindcore elements being leavened by the increasingly frequent and effective use of massed vocals, slower tempos, and early Swans-like sludge. The title and opening track of the album is one of the most harrowing songs in their catalog in this regard, a roaring, clanking dirge about the emotional and social perils of human debasement. “Heirarchies,” “Cesspits” and “Dear Slum Landlord” stand as equal highlights, with the blastbeats anchoring some really innovative modern metal arrangements. I think it’s one of their best albums ever — but, of course, I probably would, because I count Napalm Death as my favorite band, and hardcore fans aren’t usually self-aware enough to be disappointed by their faves. So I’m pleased to see that the response to album has pretty much been one of universal praise in the print and digital musical communities as well. I’ll be driving down to Lawrence, Kansas next week to see them live, though I was sorry to see that stalwart guitarist-singer-songwriter Mitch Harris is taking time away from the band for family reasons, so I will miss seeing and hearing him. I hope whatever life is throwing at him is resolvable, and that he returns to the fold soon. Both singer Mark “Barney” Harris and bassist Shane Embury took sabbaticals in years past and returned stronger than ever, so maybe that’s what will happen here. Fingers crossed.

On Returning

Marcia and I returned home yesterday after two weeks spent in Fort Lauderdale. We rented a great house there, so we could cook at home for most meals, and also have extra rooms for visitors. Katelin, my mother, and two of Marcia’s sisters joined us there at various times throughout our vacation. Marcia was actually working for a good chunk of our time away, so I did a lot of day trips (Miami, Cape Canaveral, the Everglades), and she and I walked a lot and had a some wonderful meals together. Click the image of me making my Space Nerd Pilgrimage to Kennedy Space Center below for the full photo gallery, if you’re so inclined. We will resume our regular pace of piffle and tripe here on the blog soon, after I dig out from being away for so long!

Me and the business end of a Saturn V rocket.

Me and the business end of a Saturn V rocket.

Oscar By The Numbers 2015: And the Academy Award for Best Picture Goes To . . .

Note: It’s Oscar Nomination Day, which means I have updated my 80+ year movie database and crunched the numbers to predict the Best Picture Winner, scientifically. If you have been reading my annual analysis on Oscar Nomination Day for a few years, you can probably skip the first few explanatory paragraphs and go straight to the 2015 pick and analysis. I’ve put subheads below to help you find that section.

Background and Method

People have long tried to handicap the Best Picture Academy Award based on a variety of factors, most commonly performance in other award shows leading up to the Big Pageant. Being a stats and numbers geek, it occurred to me that a far better approach to handicapping the top prize would be to consider the internal relationships within the Academy, essentially evaluating what they nominate against what they award. Toward this end, several years ago, I built a quantitative database of all Academy Award nominations back to the beginning in 1928, and then mathematically evaluated the correlations between Best Picture victory and other nominations.

What does that mean in English? Start here: it’s pretty much a given that you need a Best Director nomination to win Best Picture, since only four films in history (Driving Miss Daisy and Argo are the sole anomalies in modern times) have ever won the top prize without their Directors also being nominated. So the correlation between Best Director nomination and Best Picture victory is extremely strong.

But what other nominations have the strongest intra-Academy correlations to Best Picture success? When you crunch the data set, you come up with some interesting, often counter-intuitive conclusions. Here are a small number of them:

  • Actor nominations are dramatically more valuable than actress nominations.
  • Cinematography is also more valuable than actress nominations.
  • Film editing is, by far, the most valuable of the minor/technical awards.
  • Adapted screenplays are twice as valuable as original screenplays.
  • A nominated score helps a little, a nominated song hurts a lot.

In essence, Best Picture nominees that receive certain combinations of other nominations become almost shoo-ins to win, so it’s not just about who gets the most nominations, but instead about who gets the right ones. I developed a mathematical model that consolidates all of these factors to produce a single rating of “Best Picture-likelihood” on a scale of 0 to 100%. The nominees don’t compete against each (e.g. the totals in a given year add up to more than 100%), but rather compete one-on-one against an idealized, 100.0% Oscar Best Picture Bait Movie. Under my rubric, the five most-obvious, predictable Best Picture winners ever, based on their own year’s slates of nominations, were:

  • From Here to Eternity (1953): 96.1% predicted best picture value.
  • All About Eve (1950): 93.2%
  • On The Waterfront (1954): 90.6%
  • Gone With the Wind (1939): 86.0%
  • The Godfather (1972): 85.8%

2015 Predictions and Analysis

So what happens when you load this year’s Best Picture nominees into the database and crunch the numbers? You get these results:

  • The Imitation Game: 59.7%
  • Birdman: 57.2%
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: 52.3%
  • Boyhood: 41.3%
  • American Sniper: 34.9%
  • Whiplash: 33.5%
  • The Theory of Everything: 29.9%
  • Selma: 0.9%

That’s a pretty tight contest between the top three films, and I’m somewhat pleased and gratified to see that Boyhood is not among the leaders, even though as I type this people are gushing about it as the shoo-in favorite after its Golden Globes performance. But I’ve heard that before, and been proven correct when rug-cutting time came. My model does not care about the Golden Globes. Nor do I, for that matter. I do, however, like all three of those front-runners, a lot, so it’s good to have a contest where I’m not actively rooting against a front runner, which is more often the case.

In addition to being a tight contest, this year’s top three race is also a contest between movies that would have been obliterated had they gone head-to-head against some of the historically spectacular films noted above. Compare From Here to Eternity‘s 96.1% chance of winning against The Imitation Game‘s 59.7% for evidence of their relative stature in the eyes of their generations’ Oscar voters. If The Imitation Games does win (and I am confident that it will), it will stand as the 49th most obvious Best Picture winner, sitting alongside the likes of Forrest Gump (1994), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Emile Zola (1937), and Platoon (1986). That feels about right: solid entertainment, but nothing that’s going to cause seismic changes in Hollywood history for a generation.

At the bottom end of this year’s nominations, I’m actually flabbergasted at the complete lack of supporting nominations behind Selma‘s big picture nod: the only other nomination it received was for Best Song, and that’s a category that actually hurts Best Picture chances. If Selma somehow inexplicably wins the big prize, only Wings (1928) and Grand Hotel (1932) would trail it in my model as the least deserving, least expected winners — and that’s in large part because a lot of the categories in which films are judged in my model today did not exist in the early Oscar slates.

Given Foxcatcher‘s strong showing in directing, acting, screenwriting and technical categories, it’s truly mind-boggling how it missed a Best Picture nomination while Selma earned one. While tongues are waggling today most strenuously about The Lego Movie‘s truly idiotic exclusion from the Best Animated Feature category, Foxcatcher‘s failure to garner a Best Picture nomination is actually statistically more shocking. On a personal front, I was disappointed to see Frank and Snowpiercer completely ignored by Uncle Oscar, though I wasn’t really surprised by that snub.

So with that as a long preamble: Bring on the 2015 Awards, and best of luck to The Imitation Game, which I predict will squeeze by Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel and capture the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. Are you going to jump off the Boyhood bandwagon and get behind The Imitation Game now, or wait and let me say “I told you so” on February 22?

The choice is yours, though the numbers have spoken . . .

Mopping Up: 2014 in Review

So here we are, December 31, 2014, the last day of the final year of my first half-century. How did it go?

I documented my life in 2014 publicly via 55 blog posts here and at Indie Moines — which I shut down in September, considering it to be a successfully-executed endeavor with nothing more to justify it as a standalone writing outlet for me. I quit Facebook in 2014, and became more active on Twitter. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary in 2014, reaching a milestone where the days I have spent with Marcia in my life are now more numerous than the days I spent without her. I achieved the aggressive budget that I set for my work place, adding revenue, shrinking expenses, and expanding programs, all at the same time. I traveled to Europe, Florida, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, Massachusetts, Death Valley, Missouri, Minnesota, Chicago, and Wisconsin, among other places, both within and beyond Iowa’s borders. I spent more time with Katelin in 2014 than in any recent year, too, which was delightful.

Big picture-wise, then, it was a pretty good year on a personal front. Great Jorb There, Universe! Much appreciated! But, of course, if you’re a regular reader of my various websites, then odds are that you’re not here for such macro, big picture stuff, but rather for the micro, list-making, obsessive, nerdy, spread-sheet fueled piffle and tripe in which I specialize. So let’s hurry up and get on with discussing that kind of stuff, shall we? Yes! Huttah!

There’s already been a good amount of list-nerding and spreadsheet-geekery going on here throughout 2014, as follows:

Goodness, that’s a lot of nerd stuff — and I didn’t even mention my large multi-attribute utility model designed to identify the best retirement city in America, or my two college basketball ranking models, or the analysis I used to win my second Fantasy Football title this year. Ahem.

Here, finally, are just a few more lists of the sorts of things I like to count, sort, and order as we prepare to greet 2015 on the morrow, hopefully without hangovers. Enjoy!

Favorite Books of 2014:

  • Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters
  • Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West by Ethan Rarick
  • The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry by Lance Dodes
  • Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone
  • The Big Midweek: Life Inside the Fall by Steve Hanley
  • Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs
  • I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman

Favorite Movies of 2014:

  • Frank
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Snowpiercer
  • Under the Skin
  • Birdman
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Interstellar
  • Bad Words

Favorite Blogs:

  • Fifty-Two Weeks of the Fall (I’m obsessive about Mark E. Smith and The Fall, I’m a big fan of pointlessly-masochistic writing projects, and I appreciate honest music criticism without commercial taint. This website delivered on all accounts from the first to the last day of 2014. Bravo!)
  • Figuring. Shit. Out. (Amy Biancolli may well be one of the best writers I’ve ever read in any format: she’s funny, wise, prolific, thoughtful and candid about experiences that most of us cannot imagine, plus she has excellent taste in music and movies, and knows when to cuss and when not to. What’s not to love?)
  • Reyna Eisenstark (The writer used to blog at a certain newspaper that I don’t mention by name anymore, but I liked her prose and content enough to hold my nose at her surroundings, and just focus on her words, while she was there. In 2014, thankfully, she finally moved to her own page. Hooray!)
  • Cumbrian Sky (I first got hooked on Mars Stu when he began documenting Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s adventures on The Road to Endeavour in 2008. His writing style, sense of wonder, eclectic interests, and passion for astronomy — amateur and professional alike — are all brilliant and inspiring).
  • XKCD (Again. Still. Of course. Duh. Randall Munroe’s live coverage of Philae’s landing on Comet Cherry-Gerry was a high-water mark in the ways that science and entertainment can collide online, and that was just one of dozens of sublime moments this year).

Aštuoni

Eight things, mostly unrelated, as the end of the year looms:

1. When I did my Top 20 Albums of 2014 list, I noted that one of the perils of completing the list in early December was that sometimes awesome things came out in the last year of the month. I will include such items in my 2015 list, but I do feel compelled to note that AC/DC’s new album, Rock or Bust, is just dynamite, and certainly would have placed highly on my list had it come out a month earlier. AC/DC have a history of following career highlights with catastrophes, so just after Highway to Hell turned them into global superstars in 1979, singer Bon Scott died of misadventure, and just after 2008’s late career highlight Black Ice, founding guitarist-songwriter had his career tragically cut short by premature dementia. Each time, though, AC/DC rebounded like gangbusters, issuing Back in Black in 1980 following Scott’s demise, and now unleashing Rock or Bust as the first spectacular record of their post-Malcolm career. The record is filled with great songs, is strongly produced, and is short and punchy at 37 minutes, which is a perfect length, really. Angus Young and Brian Johnson (Scott’s replacement) have been incredibly gracious and thoughtful in their interviews for the disc, too, and prominently displaying the “Young-Young” songwriting credits one more time (whether Malcolm really contributed or not) was a class act. Bravo!

2. I have been playing in the same fantasy football league for over a decade, with but one title to my name, prior to this year. This is Superbowl Weekend in our league, and I somehow backed my way into the title game, despite playing eight different quarterbacks over the season, and not really having many superstars. Things looked bad at 4:00 today, when my opponent (my friend Mike, who I’ve known for 25 or so years, and who has whipped me like a red-headed step-child in uncountable sports wagers over the decades) prepared to unleash Andrew Luck on me. But then . . . Luck ended up imploding in a spectacular fashion, eventually being benched in the third quarter. Going into Monday, I’ve got a pretty safe lead, two star players in hand, and Mike only had a kicker left to score. So I’m not counting my chickens yet (Marshawn Lynch has missed most of the first half with a stomach bug, uh oh!), though Yahoo gives it a 97% probability that the Tuesday Morning Quarterbacks trophy will be flying to Iowa next week. I’m optimistic, but guarded.

3. Marcia and I broke in our Christmas present early tonight: a new hot tub, to replace the one we inherited when we moved to Iowa, and which has caused us problems (and expenses) pretty much since day one. The new one is smaller, lighter (it took six guys to get the old one out), and more energy efficient, and it was great to sit out in it tonight after a couple of months doing without. This is the third one we’ve owned, and I still find 30 minutes of high temperature soaking each day to be one of the greatest cures for whatever ails me. Plus, it’s quality time when I get to sit out in it with Marcia, especially in the winter when we don’t have golf time together each week. Good times. Merry Christmas to us!

4. Pete and the Pirates, a really great English pop-rock quintet, appeared on both my 2008 and 2011 Album of the Year lists, and then seemed to have disappeared from view for longer than is generally considered healthy for a band’s viability. Since blowing up the household playlists earlier this month, I have heard a couple of Pete and the Pirates songs on the new year’s playlists, and I finally went to the Google Box today to see whatever happened to them. Turns out three-fifths of the band started a new group called Teleman, and they actually issued their first full-length album in 2014. Huttah! I grabbed it tonight, and on first listen, it sounds great, offering recognizable Pete and the Pirates elements with some newer, more experimental, turns tossed into the sonic mix. I look forward to getting to know it better over the coming months!

5. I don’t watch a lot of television (sorry, it’s a fact, even though I know I sound like a pretentious twit whenever I say it), but Marcia and I have been enjoying binge-watching some great BBC comedies in recent months. We both adored The IT Crowd and Spaced, and I really liked The Mighty BOOSH, though Marcia did not care for its over-the-top weirdness quite as much as I did. (Imagine a cross between a vintage Sid and Marty Krofft kids show and The Young Ones for a general idea of the on-goings therein). We are currently in Season Two of Peep Show, a series which has included a large number of laugh out loud moments to date, even though both of us generally don’t like the types of TV humor that are designed to make audiences squirm with discomfort. All of these shows are readily available in a variety of streaming or DVD formats, so if you’re looking for a last minute gift, or a way to while away the time over the holidays, any of these could represent a wise choice.

6. I posted my most-listened-to songs of 2014 a couple of weeks ago, and whenever I update that list, I also fold it into a master list that I’ve kept since I bought our first iPod in 2007. Over the ensuing years, the following artists canons have been the most played ones in our house, so this probably represents the most comprehensive amalgamation I can offer of what it sounds like where we live. I suspect there aren’t a lot of households who match it very closely:

  1. Paul McCartney (Solo, Wings, Fireman, etc.)
  2. Stephen Gaylord (Gay Tastee, Beef, Wasted, etc.)
  3. The Bee Gees
  4. Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson
  5. Christian Death
  6. Andy Prieboy and Wall of Voodoo
  7. David Bowie
  8. Frightened Rabbit
  9. The Residents
  10. Gnarls Barkley and Cee-Lo Green
  11. Tragic Mulatto
  12. Clutch
  13. Wire
  14. K. Sonin and Che Guevara T-Shirt
  15. Shriekback
  16. Dälek
  17. Husker Du
  18. The Monkees
  19. The Pogues
  20. Mos Def
  21. Karl Bartos and Kraftwerk
  22. The Fall
  23. The Gods and Toe Fat
  24. Liz Phair
  25. ABBA

7. I just learned that there’s a new Napalm Death album due in January!! Good news about the favorite band. They will be touring the States early in 2015, so I’m hoping to either catch them while we’re in Florida or in Lawrence, Kansas later on the route. Watch this space for updates and reviews!

8. Marcia, Katelin, John (Katelin’s boyfriend) and I went to the Big Four Challenge in Des Moines last night, an annual event that brings Iowa’s four Division I Basketball Programs (Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Drake) under one roof for a night of good, clean partisan fun. Iowa, ISU and UNI have all been ranked in the Top 25 this season (ISU is still there), so it was actually a national-caliber event. The outcome is just as I would have desired: ISU beat Drake (we live near Drake, but have adopted ISU as our Iowa team to follow), and UNI beat Iowa. The latter game was of particular satisfaction to me, since I always like watching Mid-Majors beat schools from the Power Five, and I also like seeing ex-Siena coach Fran McCaffrey (who now coaches at Iowa) lose, since he was a particularly obnoxious ex-UAlbany foe when we lived in New York. We had purchased nosebleed seat tickets, but got an upgrade from a friend with an unused set of tickets near court-side. A fun night out, with great views of some great college talent.

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