Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Crimsonstreak in StoryBundle

You know what's cool? Having I, Crimsonstreak made available with a bunch of other awesome superhero books!

The novel is one of several available as part of StoryBundle's latest collection. These bundles are really neat: you pick what price you're willing to pay for a collection of similarly themed books. Seriously...think these books are worth $1 total? Pay a dollar! Think they're worth $50? By all means...do that. We'll all thank you.

But there's a slight catch: if you decide the books are worth less than $12 total, you'll only get four of them (including Crimsonstreak). Pay at least $12 and you activate four bonus books by some really great authors. That's the beauty of StoryBundle: it's an affordable way to get a ton of books and discover some under-the-radar reads.

Here are the books available in this bundle: 
BONUS BOOKS
Pick your price and suit up for some awesome superhero action! Make sure to hurry...the deal only lasts for the next three weeks. After that, it's gone quicker than you can say, "Crimsonspeed, go!"

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Not fooling us, Disney, on that Star Wars digital release



The impending release this week of the Star Wars movies on digital download should be a cause for celebration. I should kneel next to my Ewok brothers and sisters to sing "Yub Nub."

However, I'm not buying this one. Not this time.

Like many fans, I've purchased my share of Star Wars sets. I had the original CBS/Fox VHS release when I was a kid. Then the 1995 THX remastered set and its Leonard Maltin introductions. The 1997 VHS special editions. The first-run DVDs. The Blu-ray box set. The only home video release--excepting LaserDisc--I really missed out on is the DVD release featuring the theatrical versions as "special features."

That was the wrong edition to skip.

Needless to say, I love Star Wars.

For a long time, I collected everything about the galaxy far, far away. I could, at one point, boast that I had each and every toy and vehicle in the revamped Kenner "Power of the Force" collection with its musclebound Luke Skywalker and "buff" Princess Leia. At one point, I could also say I'd read every expanded universe novel and comic book ever released.

I can't say that anymore. I'm married, I have bills to pay, and I figured I'd better read other things than Star Wars books. It may sound like I'm bitter or have lost my love for the holy trilogy, but that's far from the case. I still quote the movies incessantly. Evil sports teams--mostly the New England Patriots--are always the "Empire." I read every tidbit of news I can about the new movie coming out in December (while engaging in the quixotic quest of avoiding "really big" spoilers). You'll find a lot of Star Wars references in my novels. I even wrote one that's nothing but a complete, meta-meta love letter to the Star Wars universe.

Still, the news that all the movies will get a digital release this week makes me uneasy. How many times are we going to extort money out of fans without giving many of them what they really want? Why can't people who've already purchased the Blu-ray set get the digital sets at a reduced cost? (I know the answer, it's green, and Disney swims in it.) Why not give the fans something they've wanted for a long time--the original, unaltered original Star Wars trilogy?

I know there are some rights things to work out (20th Century Fox owns the rights to the original movie while Disney owns the others...but not Empire or Jedi for a few more years, as I understand it). I've heard excuses like the "originals were destroyed to strike new prints for the special editions." Even if that's the case, it didn't stop some dude named Harmy from cobbling together an excellent cut of the original without any crappy CGI bells and whistles. If that guy can do it, surely the army of people at Disney and Lucasfilm can do it, color correct it, touch up the video a bit, and enhance the sound.

Surely they can get rid of that CGI Jabba scene and make sure Han fries Greedo. They can get rid of those annoying CGI scenes that "expand" Mos Eisley while looking like they're from a different movie (and a dated CGI one at that). They can restore Cloud City to its purely 80s form and get rid of the awful Ian McDiarmid emperor and the silly dialogue tweaks that ensued. They can mind-wipe the out-of-place dance number in Jabba's Palace and restore "Yub Nub." Harmy did it. So can they.

I didn't always hate the special editions. In fact, I loved them when they came out because I was a teenager and I got to see Star Wars on the big screen! I saw them a bunch of times in the theater, especially when they hit our dollar cinema in Richmond, Indiana. Let's just say my father and I went through a lot of Tootsie Rolls while watching them, okay? Over the years, though, the additions really started to feel out of place. That cutting-edge CGI started to look out of place; animations were stiff and things looked too "shiny" for Star Wars and its "used up" vibe.

For Christmas, my brothers-in-law said they wished they could find the "original" Star Wars movies. I went and found them on the internet. I don't usually pirate stuff, but I didn't feel bad about this. Harmy's "Despecialized" versions are fantastic even though they exist in a legally gray area. However, since Disney/Lucas won't release those untouched classics, you have to wade "into the gray" to find them. I waded into the gray and made copies for my brothers-in-law and my brother.

They told me "I won Christmas" this year and for years to come.

That's why this "digital release" is such a disappointment. My brothers-in-law would gladly pay money for the restored, original masterpieces. The problem is, they can't because they're not available. Creators certainly have rights, and George Lucas can do whatever he wants with the movies he created. It's just that... these aren't just movies to a lot of people. They're reminders of simpler, more innocent times, and people want to share them with their children and nieces and nephews. They want them to see the world as they once did, even if that world is a little rough around the edges.

Perhaps someday, fans will get their wish. It just won't be Friday, when Star Wars goes digital for the bargain price of $100 (or $90, apparently, on Vudu).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cutting the cord and a Sling TV review

About a year ago, my wife and I decide to cut the cord. We were tired of paying $120 a month for cable through AT&T U-verse. We didn't have any trouble with it--we actually liked U-verse a lot--we just felt like we were paying too much and wanted a little more flexibility in our monthly budget.

The TV package had a base price of $74.99. They got us in all of the add-ons, taxes, and fees. Since we had three TVs hooked up to U-verse, we were charged a fee for each box, bringing the price up to $89.99. Then we got the $10 HD fee, making it $99.99. Add in local taxes, broadcast licensing fees, and other miscellaneous BS, and our bill was around $120 a month. We just didn't like paying for it, so we made the decision to stop TV service.

I've heard a lot of horror stories about people who've had to deal with AT&T, but I've never had a problem with their service. I called, talked to a customer service rep, and explained that we wanted to drop our TV service. After about 20 minutes of conversation in which the agent very kindly tried to find options that would work for our budget, he agreed to unhook our TV service. It's kind of unfathomable that you can't just call and have something that you're paying for turned off, but that's how it works. The rep was never pushy and simply did everything he could to retain us as TV customers. I get that. He actually lowered our cell phone bill (we get our cell service through AT&T) and upgraded our internet service for no extra charge. I'd set out to lower our bill by cutting TV; I ended up cutting TV and lowering our other costs.

So the $120/month disappeared off our bill the next month. Before canceling, I bought a Mohu Leaf antenna for $25 to make sure we could get local channels. It worked just fine; we live on the south side of Indianapolis, and get about 30 channels or so. Most of the networks have digital subchannels, plus you get a few shopping channels (QVC, HSN), a smattering of independent channels, and some religious channels. Really, all I cared about was getting CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and CW (Arrow!, The Flash!). The antenna works like a charm, although I only bought one for the TV my wife and I watch the most.

Up next, the Roku. I'd thought about getting a Chromecast, but the Roku Streaming Stick felt like the better option. The stick connects to our TV via HDMI and offers an assortment of "streaming channels," which is code for "apps that work on Roku." We can watch Netflix, Hulu, and buy/rent movies on the Roku stick. We've had a Netflix subscription for a long time, so Netflix didn't add any extra costs after we cut cable. We didn't subscribe to Hulu, however, so our cable savings decreased by $8.55 a month so we could subscribe to Hulu. It's definitely worth it. I haven't found a great DVR solution for over-the-air TV yet (there are several options, but I haven't seen one that "clicks" for me yet), so Hulu lets us watch our network shows if we're busy at night and can't watch them when they air. Most of the big network shows are there, although you won't find much in the way of CBS programming (we don't watch any CBS shows, so no big loss for us).

I also purchased Plex for $5. It's an online media server for your computer. The Plex Roku app allows me to watch movies I've ripped from DVD onto my PC remotely. Plex takes care of the transcoding and streams the media from my PC to the television. The biggest reason I did this was Seinfeld. Currently, aside from Sony's Crackle service, no one has Seinfeld available for streaming. Even then, Crackle selects ten episodes a month, which I can burn through really quickly. Since I have all nine seasons of the "show about nothing," I ripped them onto my computer, organized the files via Plex's naming conventions (fairly easy but it certainly had some caveats), and added the library to Plex. Now, all nine seasons of the show are organized and easy to watch.

Trust me, it's a lot better than juggling 30+ discs and trying to remember which season "The Chicken Roaster" was part of (it's season eight).

After the success of ripping my Seinfeld sets, I worked on my DVD collection. There's something really cool about having your own movies available on-demand. Thank you, Plex.

I don't have a Blu-ray drive for my PC, so I'm relying on Ultraviolet digital copies for some of my most recent purchases like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. For about a year, I relied on the Target Ticket service to stream my Ultraviolet movies, but Target shuttered the service this month--a cautionary tale about the hazards of digital locket services. I liked Target Ticket's interface, and they had a lot of good sales, but not many other people used it. Thankfully, Target Ticket users could transfer their accounts to Best Buy's CinemaNow service. Oddly enough, I've started using Walmart's VUDU. The Roku app has improved tremendously over the last few months, and VUDU also aligns with Disney's Movies Anywhere, giving me access to all my Ultraviolet movies in addition to Disney's streaming catalog. Roku also has Google Play Movies, another service aligned with Disney Movies Anywhere. Google Play isn't tied into Ultraviolet--they want to see you their own movies and TV shows--so I don't use it as much.

Basically, I have plenty to watch when it comes to TV even though I scrapped cable.

There are some drawbacks, though.

Not having a DVR is frustrating, although Hulu covers that for the most part. On occasion, I'm busy and would like to record a live ball game, but those occasions are rare and I work around them.

The biggest problem is sports. I love to watch football, basketball, and baseball, but unless the game is on broadcast TV, I'm out of luck. I listened to more games on radio this year for IU football and basketball as well as Indiana Pacers games. Football wasn't a problem; Notre Dame's games are almost always on national TV, and every Indianapolis Colts game (my true passion) is available on local TV via CBS, FOX, or NBC. Monday Night Games on ESPN are picked up by a local channel as well. Radio will be my choice for Cincinnati Reds games; MLB's draconian TV contracts prevent me from watching in-market games via the otherwise excellent MLB TV app.

March Madness was a problem, however. The games air on four channels: CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV. CBS picked up most of the ones I wanted to watch, but the Valpo-Maryland game was on TNT or TBS (I can't remember exactly). I could watch a good measure of the games via my Android tablet, but who wants to watch on a 7" screen when there's a 42" TV right in front of you?

The solution?

Sling TV.

It's owned by Dish Network and offers a small selection of cable TV channels for $20/month. The bundle includes ESPN and ESPN2, AMC, TBS, TNT, IFC, Food Network, HGTV, ABC Family, Disney, and a few others. You can also add some different "tiers" for an additional $5/month. They just happened to have a seven-day trial that's perfect for testing out the service AND watching March Madness.

I signed up for the trial on Friday, entered my information, downloaded the Sling TV Roku app, and had the service up and running. The whole thing took less than five minutes to set up from registration to Roku streaming. I watched Valpo lose a heartbreaker without having to use the tablet. So far, so good. I thought maybe I'd be interested in the service for $20/month.

Then, Saturday night happened. Two of the teams I follow, Butler and Notre Dame, played a late game on TNT or TBS (again, I don't recall which one). However, Sling TV's Roku app wouldn't load ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, TNT, or TBS. I could, for some reason, watch "Chopped" on Food Network and some of the other channels, but the ones I wanted wouldn't load on Roku. I have no idea why.

Curiously, Sling TV worked fine on my Android tablet, so I watched it through there (the picture was better than the one on the March Madness app). I was thankful to be able to watch the game, although seeing one of the tournament's best games on the tablet screen instead of my regular TV rankled me a little.

I had other options, of course. I could've gone to a local establishment to watch the game (the admission fee being drinks and chicken wings) or gone over to a friend's house to see it. The drawback was that this was a late game (tipoff around 10 p.m.), and I didn't really want to be "out" that late. Call me a curmudgeon; that's fine.

Sunday, Sling TV was working fine on the Roku. I watched a game on CBS and loaded TNT on the Sling TV app so I could flip back and forth between games. On occasion, I'd get an error from Sling TV telling me I was "not authorized to watch this content." I'd exit out of the app, reload Sling TV, and everything would be fine.

When the seven-day trial ends this week, I don't think I'll pay for a full month of service yet. Sling TV is an "almost" product. I clearly see the potential, but being unable to watch Notre Dame and Butler--one of the reasons I signed up for the trial in the first place--showed me Sling TV isn't dependable yet. I imagine these issues will get worked out, and when they do, I think it'll be a great service. It's just that having service disruptions on two days in a row for a big-time event like March Madness doesn't give me a lot of confidence in it yet.

I think it's worth a try, though.



Monday, January 19, 2015

Colts Observations, AFC Championship vs. Evil



Quick summary:

Sometimes, sequels just suck.


Ick. The Colts may be able to beat Jacksonville and Tennessee. They may push around the Bengals and take advantage of an injured Peyton Manning and the Broncos. They can't beat New England, pure and simple. Even when it was 14-7, it felt like 45-7.

Any bright spots here? Um...well, D'Qwell Jackson's interception surprised me. The Colts stopped a probable scoring drive and turned it into a 93-yard touchdown drive of their own. Note how difficult it was for the Colts to score seven points and how easy it was for the Patriots to score 45.

Vanderjagtian miss. This one time, the Colts drove the ball past the 50-yard line and tried a field goal. Adam Vinatieri's kick wasn't even close. It was embarrassingly off the mark. Would it have mattered? Heck, yeah! The Colts would've lost 45-10.

Three-and-out...and a turnover. The Colts stopped New England's first drive, forcing a three-and-out. It ultimately didn't matter because Josh Cribbs tried to catch the resulting punt with his face. It didn't work out. The Patriots wasted no time, going 26 yards in six plays to score their first touchdown of the game.

So this is the kind of day it's gonna be. Boom Herron couldn't make an over-the-shoulder catch on a good throw from Luck that would've gained a lot of yards. The Colts ended up trying a 51-yard field goal that wasn't even close. On the Patriots' next drive, Tom Brady guns a pass to Shane Vereen, who makes a miraculous catch in front of Jerrell Freeman. The Patriots capitalized with a touchdown to push their lead to 14-0.

Blount Force Trauma. Thirty carries, 148 yards, three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount feasted on the Colts, again.

Deflated balls? The NFL is investigating whether New England used deflated balls during the game. This would be a rules violation and would surprise absolutely no one if it's true. What many people don't realize is that improperly inflated balls make running backs impossible to tackle. It's physics. (cough, cough) Anyway, in all seriousness, it goes to show the Patriots will do anything to get a competitive edge even when they know they're gonna kick your butt on the field.

The Bearded One. A guy named Peyton ran into some trouble with a guy named Belichick. He eventually got over the hump. Here's hoping No. 12 will one day learn how to defeat Hoodie and his minions.

Along those lines... The Colts losses to New England during the Manning-Dungy Era didn't feel completely hopeless like the losses during the Luck-Pagano Era. True, the Patriots had little trouble with Indy, but the games weren't 38-point blowouts. Those games felt like a play or two could've swung the game. This game didn't feel that way.

Roughing the passer? I enjoyed Andrew Luck's reaction to the "roughing the passer" on Jerrell Freeman, who hit Brady between the numbers. Mike Carey called it a "clear penalty." Of course, Luck got belted later in the game, but that wasn't a "clear penalty."

Glimmer of hope. I thought the Colts weathered the storm when they forced New England to kick a field goal at the end of the half. I was kidding myself, of course. The Patriots reeled off 21 points in the decisive, disastrous third quarter.

Keep it in perspective. On the other hand, think of where the Colts were three seasons ago. They'd just gone 2-14 and said goodbye to their franchise quarterback. Expectations were low, and they made it to the playoffs. The next year, they hosted and won a playoff game before falling short in the divisional round. This year, they made it to the AFC Championship Game, notching a road win in the process. It's true that the resulting title game was nearly impossible to watch. It's true that the game will stick in fans' and players' minds. It's equally true that the Colts have earned some critical postseason experience that will serve them well in the years to come.

Highest-paid QB in the league? The Colts are supposedly pounding out the framework for a mega contract that will keep Luck in Indianapolis. The deal would make him the richest QB in the league. You know what I don't like about it? A contract like that threatens to keep the Colts where they've been since drafting Peyton--a team with too much money committed to one position. That said, it's a good idea to lock Luck into a long-term deal.

What's next for Reggie Wayne? Reggie went from integral part of the offense to token depth chart guy very quickly. The last few games were quiet for him, aside from that awesome catch against the Titans. I'd like to see him get healthy and come back for one more year, but I'm not sure everyone agrees.

Under duress. Luck wasn't sacked once Sunday, but he was under pressure throughout the game. As usual, New England offered different looks and harassed him with the pass rush. Receivers couldn't find much space--and when they did, Luck wasn't on target. He completed just 36% of his passes.

Where do they go? Are the Colts "almost there" or simply a decent team with a good quarterback? I think they need to add a premier pass rusher and more playmakers on the defensive line. The Patriots won't be the Patriots forever, but Indy has to build a team that can compete with them. Strong safety is a position in need of a serious upgrade. I think the linebacking corps needs some playmakers. Offensively, they need consistency on the offensive line and a solid "change of pace" running back with a burst of speed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Colts Observations, Divisional Round vs. Broncos



Quick summary:

A legend fades. An upstart tastes his destiny. That's not overdramatic at all.


Did you think they would win? I thought the Colts had a shot, but I didn't expect them to dominate the Broncos like that. I thought we'd see a high-scoring game with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck trying to one-up each other until time ran out. That's not what happened.

Stellar defense. Where has this been all season? This is the same unit that surrendered six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, got torched by Tom Brady, and got embarrassed by Tony Romo. They were physical in the secondary--their strength--and also showed some semblance of a pass rush. True, they only had two sacks, but they harassed Manning all day and made a key play early.

Jonathan Newsome. Did anyone think this kid would lead the Colts in sacks during the regular season? I didn't think so. His Robert Mathisian sack-fumble at the start of the second quarter shifted momentum in the Colts' favor. The Colts capitalized with a touchdown and never looked back. Well, at least, not very far.

The offensive line. If I had five game balls to give out, they'd go to these guys. Where did this come from? Denver has two premier pass rushers who combined for 24 sacks during the regular season. Yet Andrew Luck, who spent most of the season getting the slobber knocked out of him and telling defenders they "made a nice hit," ended up with a clean jersey this week. And what about the Colts' last true offensive possession? Thirteen plays, 54 yards, and 8:14 of time off the clock. The result was a field goal and an 11-point lead. You don't hold the ball for eight-plus minutes without the O-line doing its job. So let's hear it for Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Khaled Holmes (yes, that KHALED HOLMES), Lance Louis (yes, that LANCE LOUIS) and Joe Reitz (yes, that JOE REITZ).

T.Y. Hilton. The numbers don't jump off the stat sheet: four catches, 72 yards. What they don't tell you is how thoroughly T.Y. Hilton dominated Aquib Talib throughout the game. It doesn't factor in another key drop by Hilton on what should've been another huge play. He's turned into one of the best in the league, and it's fun to watch.

Da Boom. He touched the ball 31 times this week. No fumbles, no drops, no drama. Okay, a little drama with that left shoulder, which appeared to be a little tender on the first series and seemed to be aggravated during the touchdown run. Herron was solid, not spectacular, and I love how the Colts have used him in the playoffs. Hat tip to "I'm Zurlon from the Planet Tipton," too. They worked themselves into a solid RB duo.

Where's the Trentspiration? About to be cut by the Colts, methinks. We all waited for Richardson to show something, and some of us (cough, cough) were reluctant to give up on him. It's clear he didn't work out, given how effective the Herron-Tipton combo has been in the playoffs. I mean, Herron-Tipton isn't the greatest RB combo ever, but they're just productive enough, something you can't say about The Mistake.

LaWorthless. I don't like LaRon Landry. I suspect no one likes LaRon Landry except for himself in the mirror. He had two memorable LaWorthless moments: letting Julius Thomas beat him for a deep pass that set up the Broncos' first touchdown and missing a tackle on C.J. Anderson that left me shaking my head. Landry's supposed to be "the enforcer" safety in the run game, so he has to make that play. Cory Redding also let Anderson shake out of the tackle, while Bjoern Werner was kind of in the area but not really a factor. You know, just Bjoern bein' Bjoern. In the end, it didn't matter, but it gave the Broncos a much-needed spark. Other than those two keys plays that killed his own team, Landry had a decent game.

They won despite a ton of mistakes. The Colts had ten penalties for 67 yards, including a roughing the passer flag that led to Denver's only touchdown. They had false starts and offside penalties as well. Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal, which is always notable if a little picky on my part. I'd throw a couple of turnovers in there as well, but I'm not too down on those.

The interceptions. One did lead to a Broncos field goal before the half, but I didn't have any problems with these throws, really. My only hesitation would be that you have one of the best punters in the game and should use him. Pat McAfee's usually good for 45-52 yards on a punt and could've more significantly changed field position.

Two great throws. Luck was on target for most of the game, but my two favorite throws were the BB he sent to Hakeem Nicks while scrambling and the big throw to Coby Fleener that set up the Nicks touchdown. The first one was a great example of Luck (to use the cliche) extending the play while the second was a perfectly thrown ball in a tight window on third and 16. He got it between the linebacker and the safety--they don't come much better than that.

End of an era. Manning clearly faded late in the season. He wasn't hitting the deep ball that he usually throws so well. He was clearly hurt and clearly upset that he lost and wasn't at his best. As a Colts fan, I've been on the other side of those news conferences, where a neatly dressed Manning stands there and answers the same questions a million times and tells everyone he just wasn't good enough that game. Will he come back? I don't know...but I do know that I want a different ending for him.

Ageless Reggie Wayne has, lamentably, aged. Two great figures of the Indianapolis Colts Golden Era are now in their golden years, and it's no fun. Reggie Wayne didn't catch a single pass this week--not a single one. He gave us some nice edge blocking, but he wasn't a major factor in the passing game. Combined with Peyton's tough luck, it put a sad capstone on a wonderful era.

Onto Foxborough! It's the place where Colts playoff teams go to die. Will young Andrew Luck and his ragtag band of rebels shock Emperor Hoodie and Darth Brady?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Colts Observations: Wild Card Round vs. Bengals



Quick summary:

Like kicking a baby tiger.


Was it ever in doubt? Well, okay, it was after Boom Herron fumbled at the end of the first half, giving the Bengals the chance to make a miracle 57-yard field goal to pull within three points. Other than that, though, the game wasn't very close.

Luck's big heave. You know the one I'm talking about. It's the play that broke the game open and gave the Colts the cushion they needed to win. I'm still not quite sure how he did it, but I'm glad he found Donte Moncrief.

Boom service. I thought we'd see a good deal of Boom Herron, but I didn't expect the all-around "Boom-centric" offense we ended up seeing. The Colts used Herron a ton this week. He ended up with 22 touches: 12 carries for 56 yards and 10 catches for 85 yards. He was very effective.

D'oh! But Boom's big weakness also came to the forefront. He lost a fumble at a key moment in the game, giving the Bengals a faint heartbeat. He also fumbled later in the game, although the Colts recovered that one. Until it stops, people are going to talk about it.

At least there were no Andrew Luck turnovers. To be honest, I kept waiting for it--that moment in the game where No. 12 holds onto the ball too long and gets sacked or decides to chuck the ball down the middle of the field while in the grasp of a defender. It never came. Luck didn't turn the ball over one single time.

Drop it like it's Hilton? My goodness, how many big plays did T.Y. Hilton leave out there on the field? The Colts could've crushed the Bengals and gone on cruise control for the rest of the game if No. 13 had been able to snag a few of those precious passes. He wasn't the only one with a drop, though. Coby Fleener got in on the action, too (of course). On the plus side, Hilton finished with 100+ receiving yards.

"I am Zurlon from the planet Tipton." With Trent Richardson out this week with a sprained ego, the Colts turned to backup Zurlon Tipton to spell Herron/secure the ball. Tipton ran 11 times for 40 yards. I liked what I saw.

Touchdown! Oh...wait. Nothing worse out there as a fan than the "oh, there's a flag on the play" moments. It happened after Luck hit Fleener for a touchdown...and the replay showed Moncrief leveled his man from behind.

Vinny's still got it. Even though he broke his consecutive field goal streak last week, Adam Vinatieri started a new one, connecting on four field goals to make sure the Colts didn't completely squander their numerous scoring opportunities.

Does Bjoern Werner still play for this team? Yeah, I saw him get leveled by an offensive lineman. He's still out there. Zero tackles, people. Zero tackles.

Is that Jerrell or Jor-El? Jerrell Freeman was all over the place this week. He was credited with 15 tackles (seven solo) and 1.5 sacks. He also slammed the door shut with a sack-strip late in the fourth quarter.

A statistic that surprised me. Erik Walden finished with only two tackles. He seemed to be around the ball a ton this week, and I could've sworn he had more than two tackles.

Does Andy Dalton hate Gio Bernard? I ask only because he floated another pass out into the flat so Vontae Davis could tee off on him. I'm sure Bernard is thankful he didn't get belted as hard as he did before.

Tight ends aplenty. The Colts went with a lot of two tight end and three tight end sets this week. They didn't have a huge influence on the passing game (7 catches, 57 yards combined for Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and Jack Doyle), but their presence was definitely felt.

Off to Denver. The Colts get to go to Denver next week to play Peyton Manning and the Broncos. I can't wait to see how many times people feel it's necessary to point out that Manning used to play for the Colts.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Studicus Selects 2014

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason.

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2014 picks):

Studicus Selects 2013
Studicus Selects 2012
Studicus Selects 2011
Studicus Selects 2010
Studicus Selects 2009
Studicus Selects 2008
Studicus Selects 2007
Studicus Selects 2005


The year Indiana Out-Hothed Hoth. We've had cold winters in Indiana. We've had snowy winters in Indiana. We've had mild winters in Indiana. We rarely, however, have winters in which you can't tell your home from Echo Base on Hoth. It was pure misery in 2014, with county travel restrictions all across the state and all the snow and ice you'd ever want to see in your life. I spent three days away from home in a hotel room close to work because of the weather.

I could've used a tauntaun (although it would've died because of the extreme cold) or a snowspeeder (although we were have trouble adapting them to the cold). I think I speak for everyone when I say it's something we don't want to see ever again. On the plus side, it spawned fun Facebook updates like this:

"Good to be home for the first time since early Sunday morning. Passed three tauntauns and four AT-AT walkers on the way back. Let me tell you, the turn lane to Echo Base was a MESS. Nearly rammed an Imperial probe droid."


Least effective good luck charm, NFL Playoffs category. I thought the horsehead hat would help the Indianapolis Colts against the New England Patriots. It didn't. I thought dusting off my old Colts Peyton Manning jersey would help the Denver Broncos beat the Seattle Seahawks. It didn't.

So this category is actually a push. They both stunk.


Least comfortable head decoration, Authors Fair category. I donned a Viking helmet for a few minutes at the Madison Authors Fair. It belonged to a cool author named Stu Thaman.


Best meeting with local chieftains, Iowa category. I made my first-ever trip to Iowa this year. It's the birthplace of my father-in-law and Anne was also born there. I got to see her grandparents and extended family. Iowa reminded me a lot of my hometown in Williamsburg, Ind. We saw a lot of gravel roads, farmland, small businesses, and small towns. Cell phone reception was predictably horrible.

Still, I had a great time seeing where my father-in-law came from. He needed back surgery this year, and this was the last big trip he was able to make before the surgery. I split driving duties with my brother-in-law, Tom.

Favorite international curling squad, Olympics category. The Olympics were back this year! I'm a sucker for the Winter Games. Curling remains my favorite sport to watch, although I'll sit through just about anything. My wife LOVED the skip of Norway's curling team. I thought he looked like a villain from an 80s action movie:
Biggest laugh, "intimidating Uncle Matt" category. My nephew Luke (and niece Elise) love playing "Monkey in the Middle" (when I was a kid, it was called keep-away, but whatever) when I visit. I laugh every time I think about a memorable encounter Luke and I had during a game over the summer. Here's a Facebook entry from June 7, 2014:
"Best part of the day: playing keep keep-away with my niece Elise and nephew Luke. While I was in the middle, I played some 'pressure D' on Luke and got right in his face. He couldn't throw around or over me...so after a few seconds, he ran into the garage and closed the door. Smart kid."

Saddest passage, aquatic frog category. Sadly, our little frog died over the summer. Prince was part of our household for five years. He was a little aquatic frog. You wouldn't think a little pet like that would have much personality, but Prince had a ton of it. He swam to the edge of his tank and watched Colts football games with me (and sometimes movies). I think he was attracted to the flashing lights on the TV.

Anne took very good care of the little guy, but he was sick at the end and eventually passed away. He gave us a lot of good stories to tell, and I'll never forget him. Emptying out his tank and putting it away was one of the worst moments of the year, and our home feels like it's missing something without him.



Writing year in review. 2014 ended up being a very productive writing year. From an events standpoint, I went to my old elementary school to talk to a gifted and talented class about writing. The kids were very gracious. I also attended the Authors Fair in Madison and the Geek-A-Thon event at Hanover College. I probably need to do some more book signings!

From a writing perspective, I finished and submitted III Crimsonstreak, the third and final book in the Crimsonstreak series. I finished a book called That's No Moon, which is equal parts Galaxy Quest, Jurassic Park, and National Lampoon's Vacation with a big portion of Star Wars pop culture goodness thrown in. I finished the first draft of a book called The Exclusive, a paranormal suspense novel involving a hard-driving TV news reporter who accidentally unleashes the apocalypse. Over the summer, I wrote a middle grade science fiction book adapting a story I wrote in sixth grade called The Adventures of the Taxis. In the fall, I wrote a first draft of Timey Dancer, an idea I kicked around for a few years before writing (more on that below). In December, I began work on a sequel to an unpublished superhero book called The Franchise. The sequel's working title is The Franchise: Awakening.

Needless to say, it's been a busy, busy writing year. I need to submit more work, however. Query letters and rejections are the worst, but they're part of the deal.

Most ridiculous book idea, "It Came from Facebook" category. Timey Dancer is a book about a male exotic dancer named Russ "Studicus" Chambers who gets transported to Ancient Rome. He ends up having to perform for Julius Caesar and introduces pole dancing. It's a ridiculous idea that sprang from a Facebook exchange involving my brother, a friend, and me. The other inspiration was the great "Saturday Night Live" sketch featuring Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley.


Favorite movie, Marvel Cinematic Universe category. I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It's my favorite movie of the year--and it may be my favorite Marvel movie. You've got great characters, fantastic action sequences, thrilling spycraft, jarring conspiracies, and humor. The movie sent a ripple throughout the whole MCU, and helped make "Agents of SHIELD" must-watch TV. Captain America has always been among my favorite superheroes, and the movie did a phenomenal job of retaining his all-American image while he comes to grips with an ever-changing world.


Best purchase, so long cable category. We dumped AT&T Uverse service because we were sick of paying for TV. We bought a Mohu Leaf and a Roku Streaming Stick, and haven't looked back. The Leaf gives me all the Indianapolis channels while the Roku gives me access to Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services like VUDU and Target Ticket. By my calculations, we've saved $1,200 since April.

Best Christmas gift given, gray market movie category. My brothers-in-law Tom and Matt wanted the Star Wars movies without any digital enhancements or changes. I couldn't do it myself, but I found someone who'd already "despecialized" the movies. Going through some questionable gray markets, I found the movies and packaged them as the "Nothing Special Editions." I even presented them with a letter "from" George Lucas apologizing for changing Star Wars.

"You've won Christmas," Tom said after getting the gift.

I also threw in a copy for my brother.


Best Christmas gift received, childhood nostalgia category. My brother and his family bought me the Intellivision Flashback. It's a miniature "plug and play" Intellivision gaming console and it's fantastic.


The box boasts that it contains 61 games, and it certainly does. I played World Championship Baseball the other night, and it's pretty much spot-on. The console even comes with overlays for the controllers! I was so pumped about it.



Longest wait from shortest trailer, movie category. I was partially let down and partially elated when the teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. The elation eventually won out over the disappointment, though it would've been great to see Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewie in there.

A tribute to Grandma Adams. We said goodbye to Grandma Adams this year. She was 89 years old, and there will never be another like her.

Grandma was never shy about giving her opinion on something. She had, as my mom liked to say, "no filter." She attended countless baseball and basketball games where she always calmly gave her opinions to the umpires and referees. One of my fondest memories is when she took my brother and I to see Transformers: The Movie and had no idea what to do with us when we started bawling over the death of Optimus Prime. I don't think she ever took us to another movie.

Grandma made the best fried potatoes and hamburgers I'll ever eat. When you went to visit her, food was mandatory. It didn't matter if you'd just eaten or were on a diet, Grandma would whip up a hamburger and fried potatoes and insist you have a Coke with it. She loved cowboy movies, old mystery shows, and Bill O'Reilly. When it came to sports, she seldom missed an Indiana Hoosiers game and kept an eye on the Cincinnati Reds. It there was a ballgame on TV, she was probably watching it.

I fondly remember Christmas Eve at Grandma's house on the old farm. I am, in fact, wearing a fleece jacket she bought me for Christmas years ago as I write this. Even though she was on a fixed income for years, she made sure everyone had some presents under the tree. I missed the McDonald's gift certificates she bought almost every year. You don't realize how grateful you are for those things until they're gone.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 17 vs. Titans



Quick summary:

The Colts wrap up their AFC South Sucks Tour by beating up on the Tennessee Titans.


Week 5 of the preseason. This game meant nothing for the Colts. Sure, there were some records to chase, but the Colts could've sat the starters for four quarters and lost, and it wouldn't have changed their playoff position one bit. As a result, we were treated to a hefty dose of Matt Hasselbeck, Zurlon Tipton, and Hakeem Nicks in the second half.

Andrew Luck broke a record. Luck set a new franchise mark for passing yards in a season, dethroning Colts legend Peyton Manning.

And Reggie Wayne was part of history. It doesn't get much more vintage Reggie Wayne than the catch No. 87 made to secure Lucks' franchise mark. Wayne showed the grace, athleticism, and hands we've come to expect from him. Too bad he couldn't make it into the endzone. Someone made a crack that Reggie "couldn't outrun Father Time." It's a good enough joke, but Reggie was never a breakaway speed guy. He made his bones with great footwork, precision routes, and incredible hands. Let's hope that groin strain isn't anything major.

Jonathan Newsome leads the team in sacks. The rookie from Ball State was touted as an undersized speed rusher who would probably have minimal impact on the team. He's really come on in the latter half of the season. Since Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden both kind of like to pull disappearing acts from week to week, Newsome's been a nice surprise as a pass rusher. Indy's rush unit still isn't very effective, however.

Adam Vinatieri is human. He missed a 46-yard field goal, ending his consecutive FG streak. I say better to break it now than have it happen in the playoffs, if it had to happen at all. Vinny's job is still safe.

Jack Doyle! Jack Doyle! He's the tight end no one ever talks about. Doyle does the dirty work, and this week he had four catches for 21 yards and a touchdown. I like it when the role players--the dirty work guys--get the chance to shine.

Josh Cribbs still has it. Cribbs took a kickoff return 76 yards before he was stopped. He made some great cuts, showed tremendous vision, and even flashed some strength while a Titans defender tried to bring him down. Of course, Cribbs also let the Titans have a 79-yard punt when he watched a ball bounce and bounce and bounce until it was a touchback. You don't see many 59-yard net punts involving a touchback, that's for sure.

A.Q. Shipley sighting! Shipley was on the offensive line, which saw a reshuffled starting unit for the tenth time this season. Jack Mewhort started at right guard for Indy. Of course, Shipley suffered an injury and had to leave the game. Hugh Thornton also left with an injury, extending the Colts' misery along the offensive line. Gosder Cherilus and Joe Reitz are supposed to come back for next week's game, so there's that.

Coby Fleener. I love to poke fun at Fleener. Heck, I expected him to totally drop that wide open TD pass from Luck. To his credit, he didn't. Fleener's put together a really nice season and turned out to be a pretty good redzone option. His numbers are good: 51 catches, 771 yards, and 8 touchdowns. He added a nice catch from Hasselbeck and finished with two touchdowns. The tight ends, in fact, were responsible for all three of the Colts' touchdowns this week.

Theft by Vontae Davis! The Pro Bowl corner simply took the ball away from Titans running back Bishop Sankey in one of the best plays of the year.

Hustle matters. Look, Mike Adams totally got blasted by Shonn Greene. It was one of those "runaway freight train" plays. I'm sure Adams will enjoy seeing it on film. But there was something about that play that I loved--Greg Toler hustled his butt off and stopped Greene from getting into the endzone. The Titans ended up settling for a field goal on the drive. Hustle matters, folks, even in meaningless games.

The AFC South sucks. The Colts went 6-0 in the division this year, beating up on the mighty Titans, Jaguars, and Texans. Only Houston managed a winning record at 9-7. Statistically, it wasn't the worst division in football thanks to the inept NFC South, where every team had a losing record. You'd be hard-pressed to find two teams more inept than Jacksonville and Tennessee, however.

Who you taking at No. 2, Tennessee? The Titans will have the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. Will they go after one of the high-profile quarterbacks? Will they trade the pick instead of being forced to select that knucklehead from Florida State? Intrigue, people. Intrigue.

Who Dey! Who Dey! Who Dey say gonna host dem Bengals?! Since the Bengals disappointed their fans on Sunday Night Football by letting the Pittsburgh Steelers win the AFC North, they get to come to Lucas Oil Stadium to play the Colts. Indy dominated the Bengals during a 27-0 win back in October when they were actually playing good football. The Bengals were without all-world wide receiver A.J. Green in that game--and the A.J. Green Watch is in full effect for Sunday after he suffered a concussion against the Steelers.

No turnovers. After a rash of turnover-plagued performances, the Colts didn't yield the ball once this week. They came pretty close in the first quarter, though, when Andrew Luck had one of his signature "I'll just keep this play alive forever and cough up the ball" moments. Hugh Thornton recovered that one, fortunately.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 16 vs. Cowboys



Quick summary:

An entire football team is lost. Will we ever find them? Will they ever find themselves?


That escalated quickly. First it was 7-0. Then 14-0. Then 21-0. Then 28-0. And so on. Finally, the Colts scored a meaningless touchdown to make it 42-7.

Drop it like it's Allen. Dwayne Allen. What the heck? He wasn't the only one, of course. No one could catch the ball.

Let's gamble! Perhaps the Colts coaching staff foresaw the calamity that was about to befall the football team. Perhaps Pat McAfee foresaw it. Either way, the decision to run a fake punt on their own 19-yard line didn't pay off. Dewey McDonald--of course his name is Dewey--couldn't catch the ball despite being Coby Fleener wide open. The dropped pass turned into an immediate touchdown, and the game was over. We just had to slog through three more quarters of it.

Taunting! Next time you lay a guy out and decide it's time to stand over him in intimidating fashion and yell something about his mother, don't do it. I don't think the Colts would've magically won this game if Jerrell Freeman's penalty hadn't happened and the Cowboys had to punt, but I'll always wonder.

Greg in-Tolerable. He had a rough game, didn't he? Yikes. Of course, no one had a good game, so...

Matt Hasselbeck had more yards than Andrew Luck. Think about that for a second. At least the coaching staff decided to pull Luck. There was no reason for him to be in the game because the Colts weren't coming back.

How bad was the game? Brandon Weeden threw a 43-yard touchdown pass. Think about that.

But it was an important one yard. The Colts carried ten times for one total yard. Boom Herron carried seven times for three yards, Trent Richardson carried twice for one yard, and Zurlon Tipton carried one time for minus-three yards. Glad Indy really got the ground game going this week.

So, why is he still in the game? You can direct this one at DeMarco Murray, Reggie Wayne, Tony Romo, and any other player who's been hurt and had no business being in a lopsided game. I know Murray is Dallas' bell cow, but the guy had hand surgery this week and still carried 22 times. I'm not upset that Dallas kept in the "A" team for a long time...but I'd be livid if I were a Cowboys fan. This was a perfect opportunity to let him rest up for the entire half and let the other guys get the carries.

Mysteries of the Offensive Line. So, Khaled Holmes played center. Everyone saw that coming, right? And then Xavier Nixon was in for the injured Gosder Cherilous and was absolutely awful. Jonotthan Harrison was active but didn't play on the o-line. Same thing with A.Q. Shipley. Your starting group: Anthony Castonzo at LT, Jack Mewhort at LG, Khaled Holmes at C, Lance Louis at RG, and Xavier Nixon at RT. It wasn't good. This was the ninth different starting line for the Colts this season. Consistency!

"It was bad. A lot of bad. Not much good, if any." That's Andrew Luck after the game. I considered just posting a GIF of the Death Star exploding instead of writing a full post this week. I'll let that supplement my ramblings instead:


Remember in like Week 6 when everybody said the Cowboys were like the best team in the NFL? The Colts must've remembered, because they certainly played like they were afraid of them.

More Jack Doyle! Seriously. Give me more! Just...don't let him catch a pass in the endzone because he'll drop it.

Josh Cribbs on offense. So, that happened late in the game. Maybe he should've replaced Reggie Wayne earlier? Just a thought.

The Colts have beaten three teams with winning records! The Bengals, the Ravens, and...the Texans. They've lost (mostly in lopsided fashion) to any good team they've played, and have been outscored in their last three losses (Pittsburgh, New England, and Dallas) by a combined margin of 135-61. Your AFC South Champions are poised for a deep postseason run, everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Colts Observations, Week 15 vs. Texans



Quick summary:

If the Texans had a quarterback, the Colts would've lost.


Let's just hand out points like they're candy. Andrew Luck and the Colts gave another opponent an easy six points after another interception return. I guess the good news is that the Colts cut their turnovers in half this week.

Not at their best. Indy won another game in which the team certainly wasn't at its best. We saw missed throws, turnovers, shoddy protection, etc. You know, basically all of the things that annoy me about this particular team.

I didn't know Hakeem Nicks still played for the Colts! Nicks hasn't contributed much to the team this year, but he did have a nice catch and run for a touchdown. Considering the Colts scored only 17 points this week, it was much needed.

Reggie bein' Reggie. Reggie Wayne did have a fumble, but at least he seemed more like himself this week. He caught four passes on five targets, and while the yardage wasn't anything to brag about, the fact that he was able to make Reggie-like catches was heartening. I still think the Colts should consider getting him some rest.

And for dessert, I'll have two Double Quarter-Pounders. With cheese. The announcers basically suggested this week that Trent Richardson "ran heavy" and "looked heavy." So, um, basically, Trent Richardson is fat, carrying an "extra six or seven pounds," in Rich Gannon's estimation. Gannon went on an extended rant--er, analysis--that mentioned Eddie Lacy and Le'Veon Bell and how some backs couldn't carry extra weight.

Richardson's YPC was higher than Andrew Luck's! This basically never happens.

Lowering the Boom. I continue to like what I see from Boom Herron. He's not the biggest guy out there, but he's got some explosion and elusiveness. He was fantastic on the Colts' final scoring drive. For the game, he carried 11 times for 60 yards.

Really stuffing the stat sheet, guys. Andrew Luck passed for 187 yards this week. T.Y. Hilton led Colts receivers with 50 yards. The Texans actually outgained Indy in terms of total yards and also held the edge in time of possession. Despite this, the Colts won the game and clinched the AFC South.

Just the Texans bein' the Texans, Part 1. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambled early in the game and broke his left leg. The Texans brought in rookie quarterback Tom Savage, who completed his first pass before having a long day that included handing off to a running back who wasn't there and then being caught in the "OMG these guys are going to kill me" position as Colts defenders closed in.

Just the Texans bein' the Texans, Part 2. After catching a break by forcing a Reggie Wayne fumble, the Texans turned the ball right back over as Savage and Arian Foster botched the handoff. It was the easiest fumble recovery of Bjoern "I Bring in Da Good Stuff, Coach" Werner's career. There is no play more Texansy than that.

Speaking of Bjoern... He didn't have the game of his career or anything, and it was a depleted Texans team, but it felt like Werner was around the ball a lot this game. After several quiet games, it was good to see.

Holding is a dangerous affliction that makes no friend of Colt or Texan. The Colts had a phenomenal TD catch by Donte Moncrief wiped out because Antony Castonzo was holding on for dear life against J.J. Watt. Meantime, the Texans had a 25-yard TD run by Arian Foster wiped out because of a holding penalty by DeVier Posey. Both holding penalties were of the "that's impossible for the officials to miss" variety.

Third and what the heck was that? The Colts were hoping to catch the Texans off guard on a third and goal play by calling a bootleg for Luck. Problem is, it didn't fool anyone. I would've preferred a play-action pass there or a Boom Herron run. At that point in the drive, though, Richardson was on the field because I think Herron was gassed from gashing the Texans defense. On the other hand, if the play call had worked, I'm sure I'd be writing about how great of an idea it was.

D'Qwell Jackson continues to tackle people. He was credited 10 total tackles (6 solo) this week. For the season, he has 120 tackles.

In the playoffs. When it comes to the NFL, all that matters is making it in. The Colts are there--they're AFC South Champions again. They'll host a playoff game, and unless something unlikely happens, that game will come during the first round. If they win, they're headed to Denver or New England.

All-Time Reggie. We've always known Reggie Wayne is one of the all-time Colts. When he re-signed with the team after the 2-14 season and extended his career with Andrew Luck at the helm, it sealed the deal. Still, anyone who breaks a Peyton Manning record for wins and career games warrants an extra mention. Reggie earned the game ball.