Vol. 4 No. 8

March, 2005




iTOONS on UFOs and Auto Design


THE REAL NEWS * * * * *





Pro Football may be the ratings king of television. But fantasy baseball appears to be the on-line hobbyist general manager's game of choice. All major sports magazines have in their on-line editions sections devoted to fantasy baseball, with expert advice and player rankings.

It began with a book called Rotisserie League Baseball, published in 1984. It brought a new component to the American pastime: you did not have to root just for the home team anymore. As your own fantasy team owner, you rooted for your drafted players to provide your team statistics. More wins, more saves, more homers or stolen bases. for the baseball purists, this added both conflict and pleasure. It revived interest in baseball in general, and the old school observers of the game prefer to watch a good game than root for a specific team or player. The conflict was that standings or team play were diminished because the fans (and the players boosting stats for free agent contracts) wanted to see individual players excel which could affect team play. A fan whose batter is on with no outs in the tight game wants to see the home run; while the real manager might want to see a sacrifice bunt to move a runner into scoring position.

So present day baseball is about statistics. That is why the average fan could care less about the steroid issue; it's the run production or strikeout totals that really count.

So hundreds of thousands of men and women turn to the sports pages in mid February as pitchers and catchers report to their major league ballclubs. Every team has a chance, even in fantasy land (Pittsburgh, for example) before the season starts. Spring hopes eternal. Spring blooms for the days of summer. For the average person, working is an endless treadmill going nowhere slowly. Playing a fantasy baseball roster is cheaper and more emotionally fulfilling than being a day trader watching the stock market ebb and flow like the tides. There is a daily gratification that your TEAM is either moving up or down and you can do SOMETHING to stem the tide.

I get into this mindset because Tech Guru Rocky has emailed me about rejoining his fantasy baseball team effort this season. As mutual Cubs fans, we have a high tolerance for both baseball and pain. The two jolts partner side-by-side in the Windy city. As you recall, last season I was roped into mid-season general manager duties when Rocky's computer crashed leaving him without a roster-move connection for Task Force 121. So I was recruited, enlisted, drafted, whatever. I have told him that I would be his scout. Scouting is a critical part of real major league baseball. In the fantasy world, scouting means trying to find a balance of players who will get you the most stats in eight separate categories (average, home runs, RBI, steals, wins, saves, ERA and WHIP). This means that I will either a) be off to the local bookstore megamagazine rack looking for baseball preseason publications and/or b) trolling the internet for beat reporter stories from spring training camps on which players are on the upswing, which are hurting, and who is on the way outta town. Then I will have to submit to him a preference list of about 30 players to fill his team roster. Some computer will take all 12-14 team lists and generate rosters in a virtual instantaneous draft selection process. Then once the rosters are set, and the season begins, there is a daily question of adding and dropping active or injured players, or proposing trades with other team owners. (Last year I do not believe there was one trade between teams. At least TF121 did none. However, we did a ton of moves at the midpoint of the season on the free agent wire.)

Now, the only decision left is this year's team nickname. I have suggested the Rocky Faults because California has only a massive earthquake to finish Mother Nature's Xtreme climate games.



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The pace of new trends in America has never been greater than the explosion of competitive poker tournaments across the country. The World Poker Tour's use of a card camera to show what the players have during the betting rounds of each hand and subsequent telecast of the soap opera nature of Vegas' biggest event, the World Series of Poker, solidified the poker mania as part television game show and part new weekend sport. The golf clubs were kept in the garage. Instead foursomes convened a basement rec room and passed cards across a green felt tabletop just like the pros.

There big hook is that amateur home players have an opportunity to compete against their favorite pro players. No other sport, per se, allows rank novices to sit down to seasoned professionals in a game of skill. The pros and tournament directors encouraged this influx of dead money amateurism because it raked in millions of new dollars to the prize pools and casino hosts. It has made several pros into bestselling authors taunting the secrets of big money high stakes Texas Hold 'Em strategies.

But success breeds problems. The pros are constantly get beat by amateurs who are not playing the game “by the book” and catching lucky cards to take pots and championship seats away from their bank accounts. The pros taught the small fries how to fish, and now the small fries are catching all the big fish. Television execs know that demographics need to have consistent faces on the small screen, so most poker shows now feature staged events featuring the “best” players in the world, the celebrities of the poker world. These events supplement the pro players bankroll from deflation by amateur gains in the business.

A successful amateur breeds more chance seekers. People are quitting their jobs and moving to Vegas to become professional poker players. It takes a lot of working capital, nerves of steel, and luck to succeed in this sport. There is no guarantee of victory even if you play your cards right. It alarms some sociologists who find the exploding growth of gambling in the United States as counterproductive. Gambling has a romantic rebel against the system quality to it. But most people fail to realize that the gambling industry has been basically nationalized by state governments in the past decade through stricter regulation and expanding state lotteries. The local weekend poker game is under the police radar. But the on-line poker forums will be squeezed like a ripe orange shortly. Why? Because gambling is a zero sum game. One dollar in the pot, one dollar out. States are running massive deficits. In order to protect their gambling businesses, they will seek to curb the growth on on-line poker sites who drain potential lottery ticket dollars away from the politician's piggy banks.

The weekend poker game itself might cut into the on-line market. Poker is in essence an interpersonal bonding experience. A poker party is a social occasion where friends get together to have a good time. There is less pressure and money involved than saddling up a credit card balance into an on-line account. Families who play poker together stay out of the on-line wilderness.

The on-line gambling sites have also been under attack for years from federal officials. Gambling using interstate telephone wires is still illegal in the USA. Now, there has been attacks from players who believe that the sites themselves have been rigging the games by having computer bots play at the virtual tables against on-line players. Now, the integrity of the game is that you are playing against other human amateurs, not against the house (who actually created the software program, is running the show, and by the way, dealing the cards too.) The potential conflict of interest in such a situation destroys the illusion that the on-line forum is exacting like sitting down in Vegas against 8 other Joes, watching the dealer shuffle the deck properly without a stake in the outcome.

School officials are concerned that elementary school children are bringing a deck of cards to school to play poker (not go fish or war). Parents seem to shrug their shoulders at the non-issue. Parents believe that poker actually teaches their children several life affirming elements: math, probabilities, sportsmanship (winning and losing), and how to make judgments (applied knowledge). Heaven forbid that children learn these elements in school. Homeroom will be turned into a card room with the kids playing for their milk money in high stakes Hi-Lo tournaments. Circle the wagons, educators: children are exposed to gambling every day with massive lottery billboards, lottery results on the news, the basketball tournaments pools, sport betting lines discussed on television and radio, church bingo nights, to government subsidized “family days” at horse racing tracks. It may be better for the kids to learn the science underlying the sport in school; well, maybe home school.




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LEOVILLIAN. If you wander into your bookstore, you may find a growing shelf of tech books by Leo Laporte, the former host of TechTV. The man is churning out titles faster than the Dummies on Anything publisher.

DEAD LETTER OFFICE. I have a problem with reviewing the sites email boxes. When I get a chance, I find several hundred pieces of mail in each that have collected over the months. Most of it is spam, ads or host-telecom announcements. So that is the subconscious thought level that reviewing site emails is not a priority. I have tried to use a mail program to combine all the emails into one location, but it was buggy and, again, I did not want to invest the time in fixing it. It compares with real life where the household mailbox is stuffed daily with junk mail. What's the point of reviewing it as it is being tossed into the garbage can?

GB UPDATE. As noted last month, Garageband is Apple's new cool music recording suite. Since I purchased and used the program with the new iMac in January, I have caught the recording fever. So much so that I have updated to GB2, and acquired the rest of the loop add-ons. I also keep sending Rocky unannounced CDs of my late night efforts. He may think that he has been signed up for a cult record of the month club.

DID YOU NOTICE? Did anyone else notice that Iraqi voter turnout, through sniper fire and car bombs, was greater than last November's United States presidential election?

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