Monday, December 28, 2015

My Own 2015 "Best Of"

With 2015 now coming to a close, I'm taking inventory of some of the best parts of the year for me. I think looking forward is more interesting, of course, but I also believe in not taking for granted the wonderful things - and recognizing the challenging things - that make up our lives every year.

At the highest and most important level, both Diane and I exit 2015 in good health, and having just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary in October. Life is good when you have a loving partner who is also your best friend.

In terms of work, I continue to enjoy working as a contractor, focusing on marketing and communication work. It's not the expected path I thought I'd be on, but one that I am pleasantly surprised by.

With work, health and relationship all in great shape, below are some lesser-important but also entertaining "best of's" for 2015 for me...

New Rock and Roll Music
2015 was a good year for rock. Not excellent, but good. Here are the best new rock albums for me this year. Some are from new bands, some from more established acts. All were new in 2015.
  • Blur - The Magic Whip
  • Born Cages - I'm Glad I'm Not Me
  • Catfish & the Bottlemen - The Balcony
  • The Libertines - Anthems for Doomed Youth
  • The Montecristos - Born to Rock 'n' Roll
  • Peach Kelli Pop - Peach Kelli Pop III
  • The Sonics - This Is the Sonics
Check 'em out.

Meanwhile, I went to a number of concerts this year - virtually all by bands who became famous in the 80s. To be fair to myself, there were several new bands I really wanted to see when they came to Seattle, but I was not here when they did. Oh well.

Here are the best three shows I did see this year:
  • Psychedelic Furs - Yep, the Furs. They were AWESOME live at the Showbox at the Market in Seattle. You'd think maybe this 80s act would just trot out warmed over hits, but no...these guys were into it and on fire. Fire! Great, sold out show. Loved it.
  • Mark Knofler. I like Knofler and all. Dire Straights were pretty good. And, he put on a nice show at the St. Michele winery. However, the reason I rate this one highly is the ambiance and warm summer night performance. It was fun to relax, have some wine and enjoy the show with my wife. 
  • Violet Femmes - OK, so the Femmes were not the featured band at this outdoor show at Marimore Park this summer. But, they were the best band of the triple bill that also included opener Colin Hay (singer from Men at Work) and headliner Bare Naked Ladies. Great energy, quirky sing-along classic songs a major bonus...I went to the show with my high school buddy Lou Lucarelli. Great to catch up with him.
Honorable mention: Matt Pond PA, B-52s, Public Image Limited, Joe Jackson

2015 was not a prolific year for my photography. I will strive to re-engage more in 2016. With trips to Mexico and Portugal on the agenda, I think I'll be back in the swing.

At any rate, here are a few of the best shots I did take in 2015. You can see a larger selection of photos I took this year in my 2015: The Year in Pictures album.

We took a few very fun, very pleasant domestic trips this year.
  • Palm Springs. Along with some friends, we rented a house for a few days in February and had a blast sitting at the pool, going out to eat and relaxing. Highly recommended.
  • Hawaii. In May we went to the Big Island. We'd never been their before. We saw the active volcano, explored some little hill towns, went to the beach, hung at the hotel and sampled some very good cuisine. Loved it!
  • Cannon Beach, Oregon. One week this year, we hosted a French student at our house. She wasn't here to attended classes, but rather work on her English and see the sights. Among the things we did was shoot down to Cannon Beach for a great couple nights down there. Beautiful. 
It was a very good year in sports for me - both for activities I participated in, as well as the teams I follow.
  • I completed the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride for the second year in a row. 206 miles people.
  • I also completed the 100 mile Tour de Cure ride and the 80-mile Perimeter Ride of Seattle (PROS) this year. Throw in a lot of training rides, and I estimate I rode more than 1,000 miles in 2015.
  • My Oregon Ducks football team won the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 by defeating Florida State.
  • The UO football team then went on to post a 9-3 season during ensuing 2015 in the fall that included wins against rivals UW (for the 12th year in a row), OS (for the 8th year in a row) and Stanford. 
  • My Seattle Seahawks won the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers in a epic comeback for the ages. Seriously, if you've not seen how the Hawks won, check it out on YouTube. This put them into the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Unfortunately, that game ended "oddly" to say the least.
  • The Oregon Men's Track Team won the Pac-12 and National Championships, again.
  • The Oregon Men's Basketball team made the NCAA tourney and got to the second round...a very good result considering expectations for the season.
2015 was a whopper of a year in politics. I'm primarily talking about the U.S. presidential election cycle. And more specifically the array of Republican party candidates, the "debates" they participated in and the fact that Donald Trump is their front-runner.

Most Over-Rated Presidential Candidate - Ben Carson. Seriously, how did this guy even get in the mix? He's way off in Luny Toons land on many issues, incoherent and has no charisma.

Most Under-Rated Presidential Candidate - easy, Bernie Sanders. This guy believes in what most Americans want, regardless of labels or party affiliation.

Most Irrelevant Presidential Candidate - it's a tie between Jeb Bush and whomever that third Democrat is who is running. Bush has all the expectations, money and campaign infrastructure needed to win the Republican nomination. The one thing he doesn't have is a personality. Bye bye Jeb! Meanwhile, Martin O'Malley is, well, who?

Scariest Presidential Candidate - Trump. If he were to be our president our economy would begin to crash again as it did the last time the Rs ran all branches. Trump has no realistic ideas on the economy, and therefore a Republican-controlled Congress will will run the show by enacting the tax cuts and deregulation that led to our problems last time. If Trump followed through on his ideas around deporting millions of people out of the country, banning Muslims from entering and building a wall across our southern border...not only will that break the economy, it will institute a police state the likes of which we have not seen here before.

Meanwhile, and I truly believe this, we would be thrust into a major war somewhere and/or see a sharp increase in terror attacks here in the US. Trump is a bully, a chest thumper and not only would over-react to real or perceived threats, I think would actually go out looking for opportunities to bomb or invade countries.

Most Likely to Win Presidential Candidate - while it is NOT a slam dunk, I think Hillary Clinton has the best shot at winning the whole thing in 2016. She has broad appeal, stands for more common ground issues than certainly any of the Republicans, and has a lot of experience. Yes, she is polarizing to many, but not a majority of voters. And, by comparison to, say, a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, she's relatively easy to like.

2015 did not deliver many excellent movies in my opinion. I know Star Wars is out now, but I have not seen it yet. My strategy is to wait for a week or two and then go mid-week during the day when crowds are smaller. In the meantime, these three are the only ones I saw that I thought rose above the mediocrity.
  • Brooklyn - the story of an immigrant Irish girl coming to the USA. Sounds boring. It is not. Great drama.
  • Ex Machina - an interesting sci-fi flick about what technology could become...and what it could be capable of. Lots of interesting questions raised in this one.
  • No Escape - a big wind up that has you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
  • Montage of Heck - a documentary about Kurt Cobain. I thought it was very well done considering his story is so well known. 
Star Wars, Bridge of Spies and Black Mass may make this list at some point, once I see them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pac-12 Bowls

So now we know: Stanford is the 2015 Pac-12 champion and 10 of the league's 12 teams will play in a bowl game. Only Oregon State and Colorado had losing seasons and did not make it to a post season game.

And, we know that no team from the Pac-12 will be in the four team playoff to determine the national champion - primarily due to Stanford losing twice during the regular season.

Here's who is playing who during bowl season and what I think will happen:

New Mexico Bowl - Dec. 19, 2015
Albuquerque, NM

Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5). Yawn. This is squarely in the territory of "consolation game." It will come and go and nobody outside Albuquerque and Tucson will notice or care. Why? These are two 6-6 teams playing for the right to say they had a winning season. Ironically, it might be a fun game to watch. I'll take Arizona by a couple TDs.
Prediction: UA 31-UNM 17

Las Vegas Bowl - Dec. 19, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

#22 Utah (9-3) vs. BYU (9-3). An in-state rivalry played out during a bowl game. And for that, it'll be a good one to watch I think. Utah started the season hot, then cooled off as the injuries piled up at key positions. BYU beat the 9 teams on its schedule that are typically on par with them, but lost all three to "the big boys" - UCLA, Nebraska and Michigan. Their coach is also leaving after this game. I think this will be a close one. I'll take Utah as the slightly better squad. 
Prediction: UU 27-BYU 24

Sun Bowl - Dec. 26, 2015
El Paso, TX

WSU (8-4) vs. Miami (8-4). Miami has pedigree and history of much bigger bowls than this - although not recently. They also have a new coach. WSU has the pluck and desire to use this Sun Bowl as a building block to future 8-plus win seasons. Who wants it most? That's what it'll come down to. I think that team will be WSU. If their star QB plays, they'll win. If he does not, it's a crap shoot. I'll take the Cougs.
Prediction: WSU 31-Miami 17

Heart of Dallas Bowl - Dec. 26, 2015
Dallas, TX

Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (9-4). Yes, UW is 6-6, but they've steadily played better over the past several weeks - sporting a very good defense and a quickly improving QB. Southern Miss has 9 wins, but against what type of competition? This is a game UW should win - by a lot. I think that's what will happen.
Prediction: UW 49-Southern Miss 23

Foster Farms Bow - Dec. 26, 2015
Santa Clara, CA

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7). Huh? How did a 5-7 team get into a bowl game? UCLA will dominate the Cornhuskers in this one. Too bad...the day after Christmas is usually a good day to hang out and watch football. But not this one.
Prediction: UCLA 44-Nebraska 20

Armed Forces Bowl - Dec. 29, 2015
Ft. Worth, TX

Cal (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-5). Yawn number two. Not much of a matchup here. Cal's QB is very good - and this is likely is last college game before going pro - but the rest of the team is underwhelming. Air Force? Not much to say either. Decent team as usual, but nothing special. I'll take Air Force in a close one because I think they'll be much more motivated to win against a Cal squad that faded big down the stretch.
Prediction: Air Force 27-Cal 23

Holiday Bowl - Dec. 30, 2015
San Diego, CA

#25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3). Two middle of the pack teams who expected more out of their 2015 season meet in this one. That's the downside. The upside is that the talent on both squads is good to great and the game may turn out to be quite entertaining. Can USC exit its tumultuous season with a bowl win and a national ranking for its new coach? Can Wisconsin validate its status once again as a power with a 10 win season? USC has lost two in a row - badly. Wisconsin is coming off a stretch of games it went 6-1 in. I'll go with Wisconsin.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31-USC 23

Rose Bowl - Jan. 1, 2016
Pasadena, CA

#6 Stanford (11-2) vs. #5 Iowa (12-1). Now this is an interesting one. Iowa is virtually a mirror image of Stanford. Big O and D lines, a commitment to running the ball and burning clock, a timely pass game by a smart QB and a stingy defense. Of all of those things, Iowa has the advantage on defense. They've got more depth and consistency across the board. Stanford's advantages are: 1) experience in big games, and 2) Heisman finalist RB McCaffery. If Iowa can stop the Stanford run game, I think they will win - probably a close one. If not, this game could get out of hand in favor of the Cardinal. I'm going to pick Iowa to win a close, hard fought and relatively low scoring game.
Prediction: Iowa 20-Stanford 17 

Cactus Bowl - Jan. 2, 2016
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona State (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5). The third "Yawn" bowl of the Pac-12 slate. In short, who cares? Sure, the faithful students and alumni of both schools will tune in for this Saturday game, played on the day after New Years day. But anyone else? Beyond gambling addicts, doubtful. ASU played very well in stretches, but ultimately proved to be flawed. That and one gets the impression the players do not like their coach. WV went 7-5 in the Big 12, so not great either. Based more on what I saw out of ASU in the games I watched this season, I'll take West Virginia.
Prediction: WV 33-ASU 28

Alamo Bowl - Jan. 2, 2016
San Antonio, TX

#15 Oregon (9-3) vs. #11 TCU (10-2). This is easily the best non-New Year's Six bowl. Both Oregon and TCU were highly ranked early in the season, only to lose games when their starting QBs went out with injuries...and then returning to their winning ways when they came back. Each has a suspect defense capable of giving up loads of yards and tons of points, but who have also played well in stretches. So, this could be a barn burner shoot out with a 66-60 type score. Seriously, it could. Truly, either team could win this one. But I think the Ducks are the overall deeper, better team (O, D, Special Teams) and they are on a hotter win streak. Yes, they gave up 42 points to a poor Oregon State team in their last game, but they also beat Stanford and USC in the previous two. And Vernon Adams is playing QB as well as anyone in the country. I'll take the Ducks in a high scoring affair.
Prediction: UO 56-TCU 42

If I am correct, the Pac-12 will go 6-3 in bowls with five teams likely in the final Top 25. We shall see.