Friday, August 30, 2013

Pac-12 Week 1 Predictions

My predictions for Week 1 of the Pac-12 season are...

Oregon vs. Nichols State in Eugene. Ummm, what do you think will happen in this one? That's right, we all agree. Oregon blows out NSU 57-10 - at least.

UW vs. Boise State in Seattle. BSU beat UW in the Vegas Bowl to end last season. I think the Dawgs get revenge and beat the Broncos 23-17 in brand new Husky Stadium to start the season off right.

Oregon State vs. Eastern Washington in Corvallis. Normally you'd think the Beavers would just roll a lower division opponent, but a) EWU is good, and b) OSU has lost these type of games at home in recent history. None the less, I'll say Oregon State wins 28-21.

WSU vs. Auburn in Auburn, Alabama. Well, what a way to start the season, huh? Road trip to SEC country. Even though Auburn ain't what it used to be, I say War Eagle wins 24-14.

Cal vs. Northwestern in Berkley. Home advantage for Cal, but Northwestern pulls the upset 27-24.

UCLA vs. Nevada in L.A. Nevada is not the chump it used to be, but they're not good enough to beat the Bruins in week one. I say UCLA wins 31-17.

USC vs. Hawaii in Honolulu. Nice place to start your season, right? The islands are kind to the Trojans as they roll up The Rainbow Warriors big, 45-21.

Arizona vs. Northern Arizona in Tucson. NAU is good. They might win this one, but I'll say Wildcats prevail 31-30.

Utah vs. Utah State in Salt Lake City. Good rivalry match up to start the season. The woes start early for the Utes as the Aggies win 27-13.

Colorado vs. Colorado State in Denver. Another in-state, cross-conference rivalry kick off game. I like it. I also like CSU to win it 23-10.

Stanford and Arizona State stay on summer vacation with a BYE this week.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Update: Top 10 Most Viewed Pictures

It has been a while since I reviewed the most viewed pictures on my Flickr Photostream, so I thought I'd revisit the list, see if anything has changed and - if so - if I could see or deduce anything about why that might be.

To re-set, for several years running the most viewed pictures of the nearly 3,000 pictures I've taken and posted to Flickr were alternatively my close-up shot of the Taj Mahal and naked cyclists at the annual Seattle areas Fremont Solstice Festival. After that, it has usually been a combination of pictures I took when we visited Vietnam in 2006 and a few of military vehicles or historic sites I've taken around the world.

As of August 13, 2013, below is the list of most viewed. You'll see there are some changes and some similarities. Counting down from the tenth most viewed to the single most viewed...

10. A Naked Bigfoot on a Bike at the Fremont Solstice Parade
9. Room Inside Peles Castle (in Romania)
8. Poenari Castle (in Romania)
7. Former South Vietnam Capital Building in Ho Chi Minh City
6. Aircraft Carrier Yorktown
5. Naked Bike Riders in the 2012 Fremont Solstice Parade
4. Pyramids of Giza and Camels
3. Naked Bike Riders in the Fremont Solstice Parade
2. Close Up of Taj Mahal Detail
1. Spiral Staircase in Peles Castle (in Romania)

My Most Viewed Picture
OK, so you see that three of the top 10 are still, in fact, naked bike riders. Oh how people like to look at naked people online...even if in this case they are all painted up. But, I will note that even if you add the views for these three pictures, they still don't out-do the #1 picture in terms of total views. Close, but not quite.

Also, you'll see a few pictures from Romania now in the mix, and in fact one of them is the most viewed. I chalk this up to Pinterist. Well, that and good photography by me of course!

I started a minimal Pinterest board a while ago as just another place to post my pictures online. Among the sets I created was one featuring shots I took when we visited Romania in 2011.

One of those pictures, the carved wooden staircase inside Peles castle, caught on there like wildfire and was re-pinned LIKE CRAZY for a long time over the last year or so. Why? Who knows. It is interesting and a good example of a spiral staircase. Perhaps it is an inspiration to people thinking about putting a spiral staircase in their homes...even if not close to the elaborate nature of the one I photographed. But that's as far as I can tell. In any case, that Pinterest activity spurred views of that same picture on my Photostream - propelling it past all the other previously most viewed.

The other Romania pictures are castle-related too, so there may be something about interest in "real" castles and what they look like. This is reinforced by the fact that five of the next ten most viewed (11-20) are also pictures of castles in Romania.

After naked bike riders and Romanian castles, the top 10 most viewed is rounded out by a shot of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, a building in Vietnam and an U.S. aircraft carrier. And you can see that the Taj detail picture is still viewed a lot.

To me, the list as of August 2013 seems very similar to previous time frames with the exception of views of the Romanian pictures fed by Pinterest.

2013 Pac-12 Football Season Preview and Predictions

It's that time of year again. Yep, Pac-12 football is just around the corner with the first games starting in a couple weeks. Below is what I think will happen over the next few months...

The two biggest happenings in the league over the off season both revolved around Oregon. First, their highly successful coach, Chip Kelly, left the school for the head job with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. His offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich is now the head coach at Oregon. Second, at LONG last the NCAA ruled on recruiting violations committed by the University of Oregon coaching staff - in particular their use of a recruiting service in Texas. To make a really long story short, Oregon cooperated fully with the NCAA, the violations were in a very gray area of the rules, they did not involve any players of consequence during the time of the violations, other schools did the same thing at the same time, and Oregon's head coach departed for the NFL. And the upshot of all that is the NCAA did not levy harsh penalties. So, the Ducks are ready to fly in 2013.

I will not predict records, but I will predict order of finish.

North Division
  1. Oregon - Ducks just re-load. But, with Stanford in this division UO may have to go undefeated in order to win just the North Division of the league. With the talent they have all over the field and a great returning QB, they are capable of doing it...and if they do, much more will be at stake than just the North Division.
  2. Stanford - This squad could win the North as it did last year by simply beating Oregon. But I don't think that will happen. The Trees lose some key players, including their great running back Stephan Taylor and a couple big, key TEs. None the less, they could easily end up in a BCS bowl.
  3. Washington - I know most are predicting OSU in the #3 spot in the North, and that certainly could happen. But, UW will be better this season. I think they will take a small step and get eight wins this year.
  4. Oregon State - Middle-of-the pack season coming up for the Beavs. Over rated at #25 in the coaches poll going into the season. They'll probably win a couple they should lose and drop 1-2 they should win, but in the end I'm not seeing this as a breakout year for the kids from corn valley.
  5. Cal - They may have the talent to finish a notch or two higher than I'm predicting, but I've got them here because of who they lose from last year and the fact that they've just underwhelmed the last couple seasons.
  6. WSU - Sorry Cougs. You will be more competitive on the field, but I don't see a strong finish in the league this season.
South Division
  1. UCLA - The hype finally matches the talent. UCLA repeats as South champion. 
  2. USC - The Trojans lose some great talent, but it's still USC. So, they could challenge for the South title if things fall their way...which traditionally they do. However, between their 2012 run of bad luck and questionable coaching talent, I think the critical breaks coming their way will be bad instead of good.
  3. ASU - Another year, another rousing set of expectations for the Sun Devils. I put them in the middle-of-the pack because that's where they always seem to finish regardless of what's said about them in the off season or even how they actually perform in the early part of their schedule.
  4. Arizona - A step back for the Wildcats this season with the departure of their QB and continuing changes brought in by new coach Rich Rod.
  5. Utah - More mediocrity out of the Utes in 2013. Not looking for much from them.
  6. Colorado - Oh why did they join the Pac-12?
Pac-12 Title Game
This game is played between the winner of the North and the South divisions with the victor claiming the Pac-12 Championship and an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl. If the winning team is ranked #1 or #2 in the final BCS rankings, however, they would go to the National Title game instead...also to be played in the Rose Bowl stadium this time around.

Oregon vs. UCLA - I'm picking a repeat of the inaugural Pac-12 title game in 2011 and I'm predicting the same outcome...a win by Oregon. However, I'm going to also predict that the Ducks don't get to the National Title game and have to "settle" for the Rose Bowl.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mona Releases Second Album - Torches & Pitchforks

Nashville based band Mona is a group I've been keeping my eyes and ears on over the last year or two. Why? Well, they are new outfit that seems to capture what I think is great about rock and roll - rebellion, style, energy, commitment and above all...great tunes. Turns out, you CAN still get great music from a bass, drum kit, two guitars and a lot of conviction.

I've seen Mona twice in Seattle and once in New York City, and each time these guys don't disappoint. And, they are approachable off stage as I was fortunate enough to meet each member of the band at some point at one of the shows I attended. Good guys.

Torches & Pitchforks Album Cover
In any case, they just released their second album titled Torches & Pitchforks. That's right, as in the villagers out en mass at night to find and kill the village monster - holding aloft sharp pitchforks and flaming torches as they march forward on their mission. So which is Mona, the enraged villagers or the monster?  Maybe a bit of both. Or, perhaps when you listen to this album about standing your ground, reaching for the stars, the sadness of depleted or lost love (or lost opportunity), the excitement of lust and seeking truth in life....they are neither, but rather the energy, spirit or mania that fuels both righteous mob or cornered monster.

You can decide for yourself by listening to their album. If it helps, below are my thoughts on the songs - which Mona have arranged in three parts with interesting interlude sections in between.


Intro. "From the depths of the Earth." This is first of three "interlude" pieces that divide Torches & Pitchforks into three parts. And, it's actually not a song sung by Mona. Rather, it's an excerpt from an old-timey gospel piece, complete with scratchy record sound, called "Born to Serve the Lord" and performed by The Chapel Keys. I like it. Mona definitely plumbs nostalgia in its lyrics and style and has toyed with the salvation and hypocrisies of religion. So, it's a fitting intro to set the stage for what is to come.

Wasted. "Do you believe in God? No, but I still pray." The title and subject of this song plays with a double meanings of "wasted." On one hand, the lyrics suggest a drug addict and his girl trying to come to grips with their situation, seek salvation and then resigning themselves to the fact that, well, it's too late already...full speed ahead! But on the other hand, it suggests two people "wasting" their lives in dead end situations...seeking something bigger and more exciting and ultimately not being afraid to take a big leap to get out, to avoid ultimately wasting away. Or at least that's my interpretation.

Musically, this one kicks off the album proper with a good, fitting rock song Mona style. Nick Brown's powerful, soulful voice sings out and howls over a driving and rumbling accompaniment though the intro, crescendo, breakdown and back to a powerful ending. While this song is perhaps a bit "Mona by the numbers," the song kicks off the album with a burst of energy. It does the trick for me.

2013 Publicity Photo of Mona, main man Nick Brown in middle
Truth. "Oh the nine to five, got you weary souled." A baseline from Zach Lindsey starts this one off with a piano joining next, then a guitar, a deliberately paced drum, lead guitar and ultimately the singing voice to build into a song that's shows some diversity of style for the band. Best I can tell, this one talks about someone who is fed up with the fake and superficial trappings of life, but who is also partnered with someone who is either unaware of the shallowness of those things or indulges in them out of fear. The singer is seeking "truth," but is weighed down by someone who is not or cannot. And what does that ultimately mean? Seems like by the end of the song, the main character has decided to go it alone, with "nothing now" - which is liberating, but also raises the question of "who am I?"

Darlin'. "Don't leave me darlin'." That pretty much summarizes the theme of this song - don't leave me baby! Is it just for the night or forever? Could be either. In any case, this is a stand-out track to me. A jaunty guitar line starts this one out with drums and a second guitar kicking it up a notch as the song moves quickly into almost throw back rockabilly vibe...all of which morphs into more of a rock presentation a la The Strokes and finally ends on a much slower and isolated lament...closing with, "I came here to see you, but you walked out the door." This is a bit of a change up for Mona and for that I like it. The tune sticks in your head and, well, the message is universal. We've all been there at one point or another.

Goons. "Baby I need it all." This is the rebellious first single from the album and has been out for a while now. The title is a take on something Frank Sinatra said when he was asked about the initial wave of rock and roll back in the 1950s. He said in part, "It's sung, played and written, for the most part, by cretinous goons." Mona seem to be taunting The Chairman of the Board by saying, "Hell're right. We ARE those goons...and we want it all!"

Freeway. "I don't want to be the one that leaves." Lyrically, this one is nothing particularly new - perhaps a deeper version of the previous song, Darlin'. Basically, its a guy saying he and his girl have been through a lot and perhaps the end is near, but none the less he does not want to be the one to end things. Musically though, the song is compelling and pulls a the heart strings with a soulful delivery by Brown and thoughtful, moving music to go with it.

Interlude (Don't Cry). "Everyone's on the dash, trying to get it and pile up all the cash, baby it won't last...that's not the way it seems to be with me." This second short buffer segment is Mona this time and introduces what I think is the best third of this album. On this short segment, Nick Brown sings to a ukulele accompaniment and nice breezy backing vocals from the rest of the guys on this pleasantly subdued little track. What's he singing about? A guy who is rejecting the normal pursuits in life and telling his girl not to cry too much about it. I think.

Torches & Pitchforks. "Say what you need to say, you gotta get it right." OK, now we're really talking. This one is the best on the album in my book. Up to now we've had some good songs that are fun to listen to or make you think a little with Darlin' being the highlight to me. But with T&P the band steps up their game and shifts up a gear or two - full Mona style. Baby we got it all: heartfelt delivery by Nick Brown, epic and catchy music, soulful background singers and a theme about facing your fears instead of running - saying what you need to say, doing what you need to do in the face of whatever "torches and pitchforks" are coming your way. A+ work.

Mona on stage in Seattle. Photo taken by Marc Osborn.
Like You Do. "Everybody talks and nobody listens." This is strong musically - catchy and even has a few flashes of synth on it - but lyrically we're back to holding on to precarious love and what may need to change - a theme now done a couple times already on the album. However, I like this one quite well and taking it together with the other songs in this section of the album, it fits nicely.

Cross the Line. "I hoped it wouldn't come to this, but as you're talking I feel my hand turning into a fist." More good stuff! Mona jump into scrappy, greasy, "don't mess with me" territory on this song. Guitar riffing with a piano and driving drum beat kick this song off on a promising note and it turns out...yep, kick ass song. "Back the F*#%K off. What's mine is mine and you are not going to take it, man." That's the message on this noisy, straining song. Dead serious lyrical delivery exploding into a ripping chorus by Brown leaves you convinced he ain't fooling around.

Me Under. "I'm going everything but nice and slow." At times I hear a bit of U2 in Mona, and this song is like that to me. And it's good. It's an expansive tune that starts off with a racing spare guitar and builds quickly into a song that is, best I can tell, about coming of age and a guy who wants to...needs too...feel unconstrained, unencumbered to lash out at (or embrace) all that the world has to offer. And he does not want anyone dragging him under. He wants to go down to the river to wash himself clean of his burdens and go forward from there - at full speed. I rate this song as right up there as best on the album. Strong work from the band.

Interlude (Waiter). "Tell me, waiter...did you get that girl's name?" This is the third interlude bit on the album. It's pretty short and too the point: Hey, I just met (or saw) a girl that amazed me, but I didn't get her name. Anyone know who she is?

Late Night. "It's gonna be a late night she said." This is a song about a girl who is, unfortunately, driven to sell her body for money and the tragedy that this is...the girl knowing she should be somewhere else, doing something (anything) else than her sad realization of what she has to do to pay her bills. In only one line in the song, there is the implication that there is someone outside of this Hell that she wants to "stay near," but that is the only lifeline of hope...the rest is the solid truth that she is stuck in her situation with no seeming way out.

Sounds bleak. And yeah, that's bleak stuff. But, Mona deliver this message in a touching song that messages sympathy for the girl.

L.L.L. This song picks up the anti-conformity sentiment of "Torches & Pitchforks," "Truth" and "Cross the Line" from earlier in the album. It also is another song that has some U2ish elements. With the up-tempo music and rapid and righteous delivery from Brown about "living like lovers" and fighting the good fight, I like this one. But, it isn't quite up to par with those other "I fought the law" songs on this album already. Good, not great.

Love Divine. "Even when it's fair, life's not fair." At almost seven minutes, this is easily the longest song on the album. It's an ambitious affair with piano, synths and a few change ups in pace from slow and quite to loud and rage-y - all centered around mid-tempo backbone. The theme of the song seems to be about pushing past life's pains and traumas to find something real...but honestly the lyrics are all over the place, ending with Brown exalting that "you will find me down on my knees" as the sound of the album fades out over the same crackley record sound it began on.

I'm usually in the camp of getting an entire album by an artist, and I'd recommend that for Torches & Pitchforks too. But, in case you just want to sample a few songs to see if you like Mona, below are some recommendations.

Download Now:
  • Torches & Pitchforks
  • Me Under
  • Cross the Line
  • Darlin'
Want more? Get These:
  • Like You Do
  • Freeway
  • Late Night