1st Day of School

Today was my first day of school.  Well it was technically.  Today was just the superintendent meeting and faculty meetings.  I am exhausted mentally from the information overload.  All the other teachers tell me that it is what they hear all the time so it is nothing new, but to a noob like myself, it was exhausting trying to take it all in.

I have a great feeling about the new teaching staff.  I feel like they are going to treat me like one of their own before too long.  I am excited and nervous about finally starting down this path I have been training for so long to walk.

Tomorrow the students officially start and the real fun begins.

 

Lerd3

LerdFingolly The Crusader

 

LerdFingolly is my favorite toon to play. I created him after I leveled Fingolfin to 70 (the highest level at the time).  He was way easier to level than a melee toon.  The pet made survivability easier and repair bills less. As with all my toons, I am no expert nor elitist, but I am respectable.

My eldest son is jealous of this toon because he is lucky.  I usually win all the loot rolls and have outfitted four other toons with at least five. pieces of Timeless gear. This toon is primarily PvE., though I have just started playing some pvp.

Right now my item level stands at 539, but I have 2 more 535 timeless pieces to put on so it will jump after that.  My PVE gear set is:

  • Headguard of Unblinking Vigil – Raid Finder - 536
  • Prideful Gladiator’s Necklace of Prowless – 550
  • Crimsonscale Spaulders of the Adriot – Timeless – 543
  • Prideful Gladiator’s Cape of Cruelty – 550
  • Tunic of the Unblinking Vigil – Flex – 548
  • Crimsonscale Bracers of the Decimator – Timeless – 543
  • Grievious Gladiator’s Chain Gauntlets – 522
  • Crimsonscale Belt of the Zephyr – Timeless – 543
  • Prideful Gladiator’s Chain Leggings – 550
  • Grevious Gladiator Sabaton’s of Alacrity – 522
  • Kil’ruk’s Band of Ascendency – Raid Finder – 528
  • Reality Ripper Ring – Flexible – 548
  • Vicious Talisman of the Shado-Pan Assault – 522
  • Sigil of Rampage – Raid Finder – 528
  • Death Lotus Crossbow – Flexible – 548 or
  • Kor’kron Hand Cannon – Flexible – 540

Now I know I have been mixing in the PVP gear, but you have mix things up when the gear does not fall.  Right now I am pulling 100 -110k depending on the boss.  I like the way the new gear looks for my hunter.  I know  a lot of people don’t like the laser beam coming out of my face, but I do.

I have also been running more PVP than usual.  Early next week I will have enough conquest points for my Prideful Weapon.  Right now I am running:

  • Grievous Gladiator’s Chain Helm – 522
  • Prideful Gladiator’s Necklace of Prowless – 550
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Chain Spaulders – 522
  • Prideful Gladiator’s Cape of Cruelty – 550
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Chain Armor – 522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Wristguards of Alacrity – 522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Chain Gauntlets – 522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Links of Cruelty – 522
  • Prideful Gladiator’s Chain Leggings – 550
  • Grevious Gladiator Sabaton’s of Alacrity – 522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Ring of Cruelty – 522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Ring of Accuracy – 522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Medallion of Tenacity -522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Badge of Conquest – 522
  • Grievous Gladiator’s Rifle – 522

So that is my favorite toon Lerdfingolly.  He is a work in progress but he is a ton of fun to play.  Next week I will getting my Prideful weapon and the legendary cape.

I will be adding a new Melkorr post later this week.  I have reached 90 (back in the first week of February) but have been obsessed with gearing Lerd as fast as possible.

 

 

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East Branch Owego Creek – 13th April 2014

Day two of spring break – Day two of really beautiful weather – Day two of fishing.

My eldest son has been asking for me to take him trout fishing for the past year or so.  I used to trout fish a lot in my youth but it is something that I have gotten away from as I have aged.

So after consulting with the expert, my father, about a good spot to take two sixteen year olds (my son and a friend), I decided to try our luck on the East Branch of the Owego Creek inside the town of Richford, New York.

It was a moderate drive from Binghamton; about 40 minutes.   That’s not too far for three gamers to talk WoW ad pass the time.  When we arrived in Richford, I wasn’t sure which direction we should fish.  The creek passes through town and follows Rt 38.   First I turned left down 38 until I reached a pull-off with a kayaker waiting for his ride. I stopped and asked about the fishing rights right there.  I always make sure I know if the land is posted or not.  He said that there were fishing rights through this stitch but that I would probably do better with the teenagers fishing about the town with there are more accessible pools to fish.

We found another pull-lo just north of town and decided it was the spot.  The water was cool but had nice clarity and water level.  The two boys went up the creek and I in turn went down.  There are two nice holes to fish right there off the pull-off.  Almost immediately another car pulled up with two more fisherman( one fisherman and one fisherwoman) for the creek.

I am a solitary fisherman.  I do not like too many boots in the water with me, so I was a little worried.  Thankfully, they didn’t stay very long at all and for a while we had the stream to ourselves.  After a short time the boys wandered down my way because there were more holes to fish. They said that going upstream the creek shallowed out a bit and was less accessible from the shore line.

I was using a night walker rig with a split shot to keep it bouncing on the bottom.  Not far too far from the pull off, I encountered a deep hole that flowed under a rail road crossing.

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The pool gets nice and deep as it flows under the bridge.  I set up camp there and proceeded to throw my night walker into the hole probably a hundred times; first at the front of the bridge and then on the other side.  I refused to give up because I knew there were fish under that bridge.  After losing a couple hooks to an obstruction about ten feet out, I hooked this 14 inch Brown Trout.

IMG_0019

This is a very solid catch. I thought I was going to lose him more than once.  As I brought him in close, he turned side-ways  and ran along the foundation of the bridge.  I am only fishing with 4 lb test line so it is easy to lose a fish if they run and your drag is set to tight.  As he ran, he would his way through a pile of concrete debris in the water.  The line wrapped around the concrete and I though for sure it would snap, but it held and I netted him. It was a nice fight for a nice fish.

It is too bad that this was the only fish we caught all day.  We encountered 20 other fisherman that day and my fish was the only fish taken all day.  Still I thought it was a great little stream to start the boys off on.

Directions from Binghamton:

Take I81N to the Whitney Point Exit.  Take a right off the ramp onto Rt26.  Turn left at the intersection onto Rt 11.  Travel straight through town on Rt 11 until it turns into Rt 79.   Stay on Rt 79 until you reach Richford.  Turn right at the light onto Rt 38.  The pull-off is maybe a third of a mile on the right.

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Aqua-Terra – April 12, 2014

With the coming of the wonderful spring weather at the beginning of spring break, my family ventured to our traditional first fishing spot.  This isn’t a spot for the die-hard fisherman to flock to in the early spring, but rather a family friendly county park where even the smallest fisherman can try their luck in catching blue gills.

Even though the weather was nice, the water was still rather cold.  I didn’t have a thermometer with me, but the water was cold to the touch, crystal clear, and showed very little aquatic activity.

My oldest son and I only walked away with two little blue gills.  My youngest son spent his time catching salamanders and making friends.  I beautiful wife was catching some rays. And my daughter sat listening to her Harry Potter audiobook.  We all had a good time in our own ways.

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We did enjoy the wildlife.  We saw a nesting Mallard Duck pair, a pair of Canadian Geese, and this big fella: A LARGE Snapping Turtle.

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I almost stepped on this behemoth while crossing the inlet to the pound.  He is easily one of the largest snapping turtles I have encountered.

He tried to hide once he spotted us, and my son tried to get him to swim out so that we could get a better picture, but this old-timer settled in under the tuft of overhanging grass and was done with us.

Even though we walked away with only two gills, it was a great outing.

Aqua-Terra is a Broome County park in the Town of Binghamton.

Tally

Keith 1 Blue Gill

CSK    1 Blue Gill

 

 

 

 

How does Denver’s #1 Offense Up Against Seattle’s #1 Defense ?

 Comparing the Teams

The last few days I have been going over the numbers to determine which team has the real advantage in Superbowl XLVIII.  By analyzing the ranking of the opponents of both Seattle and Denver, I attempted to discern how real their offensive and defensive ranks were.  Playing really bad competition can skew the ranking depending how many of those cup cake teams a team plays over the course of a 16 game schedule.

In the graph below, I have plotted the average ranking for each teams opponents using the same categories I analyzed in earlier posts; total offense/defense, Total passing offense/defense, and scoring defense.


As you can see, the both teams played opponents with similar rankings.  Both the Broncos and Seahawks played equally mediocre offenses and defenses(ranked 20), while Seattle played mildly better passing attacks than Denver played passing defenses.   Meanwhile, Denver played against better scoring defenses than Seattle played scoring offenses.

Defensive Playmakers

The differences in their opponents seems miniscule.  Both teams advanced to the Superbowl by continually playing a very high level no matter who their competition is.  The question is whether either team has faced an adversary as good as they will on February 2nd.

Peyton Manning lit up defenses all season through the air, but on February 2nd, he will be facing Richard Sherman and possibly the best secondary in football this season.  The question is whether or not he has played any defensive playmakers of Seattle caliber.

The fact is that Seattle defensive backs in the top 5 for interceptions; Richard Sherman (8) and Earl Thomas (5).  For his part, Peyton Manning played against several defensive backs in the top 11 for interceptions:  Brandon Boykin (6), Antrel Role (6), Quintin Demps (5),  Logan Ryan (5), Corey Graham (4), Darius Butler (4), Alterraun Verner (4),  and Deangelo Hall (4).  Manning has played against good cornerbacks and he isn’t afraid to challenge them; win or lose.  The question will be whether Seattle’s man to

man secondary can force Manning into enough mistakes to slow down that high-powered offense.

Offensive Playmakers

While Denver has played against other playmakers on Defense, can Seattle boost about playing against a quarterback in a category nearing Peyton Manning?

When reviewing the schedule, it seems like Seattle has played against 3 top level quarterbacks: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Eli Manning(debatable).  While Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Colin Kaepernick have potential to be top level quarterbacks, the fact remains that right now they are still developing.  So Seattle’s statistics are impressive, they have only played against a few quarterbacks in Peyton’s class and will certainly be challenged.  Will the lack of experience this year against Peyton-like competition hurt them or will they rise to the challenge?   We will see.  Below is a list of all the quarterbacks that Seattle played against this year. Look over Seattle’s competition this year and you decide.

  • Eli Manning
  • Drew Brees
  •  Christian Ponder/Matt Cassel
  • Matt Ryan
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • Cam Newton
  • Mike Glennon
  • Kellen Clemens
  • Carson Palmer
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick
  • Andrew Luck
  • Matt Schaub
  • Chad Henne

All statistics used on this page were gathered from:

NFL.com, DenverBroncos.com, Nfl.com/stats

 

 

Naruto 662 – Really the End or Simply Continuing?

The title to Masishi Kishimoto’s 662nd Chapter is The Real End, but is it really an end to anything?

I read this chapter excitedly, waiting for something big to happen, but it seemed to end exactly the same as the last one did; Naruto and Sasuke on their deathbeds.

I was confused a little right at the start.  Gaara rushes Naruto back to the Hokages and Sakura to help him heal.  Someone notes that Naruto is a Uzimaki and that he would heal and resist dying, only the one rule when extracting the biju from their hosts is that the host always dies.

I don’t see this happening though because Naruto always does the impossible.

The second part of the chapter follows the dying Sasuke.  He is driven to stop Madara just like he was when chasing his brother Atachi.  He refuses to die, but his life force is slipping from him as is evident from Karin’s reaction.  She cries Sasuke’s name as he falls to the ground.  She can sense the chakra in people.

I am not sure where Obito/Black Zetsu got the Mokuton from the 1st Hokage, unless it is because they are clones?  The only problem with that is that he is only a failed experiment and not a true clone of the 1st Hokage.

The episode ended the same as the last; the audience not knowing if Naruto and Sasuke will remain alive.  So is this the end?

I am still highly engrossed in the series, but I not sure how much longer I can be patient waiting for Naruto or Sasuke to spring their awesomeness on Madara.  Next week he is taking a week off, so we won’t know what is coming until two weeks from now.

Congratulations on the 15th year of serialization.  What a fantastic writer to be able continually create enough material for 15 years of publication.

Analyzing the #1 Rankings – Denver’s #1 Offense

I have looked at the Seattle Seahawks #1 defensive rankings in correlation to who they played.  Now I will examine how legit the Denver Broncos #1 offensive rankings are by analyzing how good the defenses are that they played against.

#1 Ranked Offense

In contrast to Seattle, Denver finished the 2013 year ranked 1st in Total offense (yard per game), passing offense, and scoring offense.  They averaged 457.3 yards and 37.9 points a game, with 340.2 of those yards coming through the air. These numbers are incredible considering there were only 3 teams (Denver, Philadelphia, Green Bay) that averaged over 400 yards a game.  Only New Orleans averaged over 300 yards through the air, and no other team finished over 30 points in a game over the course of the season.

The question becomes, were the Broncos tested during the season while accumulating those numbers? First let’s look at who Denver played through the regular season.   The played:

  • Ravens
  • Giants
  • Raiders
  • Eagles
  • Cowboys
  • Jaguars
  • Colts
  • Redskins
  • Chargers
  • Chiefs
  • Patriots
  • Chiefs
  • Titans
  • Chargers
  • Texans
  • Raiders

Out of 16 games, only 7 (Eagles, Colts, Chargers 2 times, Chiefs 2 times, Patriots,) were against teams with winning records. Nine of their games were against teams that could be considered lesser competition since they finished  the year under .500.  Could these teams present defenses stiff enough to challenge the Broncos high powered offense? Let’s look at how they are stack up?

#1 Offense – Total Offense (Yards Per Yards)

The Denver Broncos only played against two teams with a defense in the top 10;  the Texans (7th) and the  Giants (8th).  Of the other fourteen games, only Tennessee (14th) and Baltimore (12th) finished in the top 16 of the league.  So while the juggernaut Broncos offense  seemed to move the ball at will this year, it may in part be because the defenses they were playing against were below average. The average defensive ranking of all the teams they have faced this year rated at 20.68. The average defense they faced were in the bottom half of the league.  The graph below illustrates how each team compares to the Seattle Seahawks in terms of yard per game.

Only  four teams (Ravens, Giants, Titan, Texans) were below the 350 yards threshold.  This makes Seattle’s 273.6 yards per game even more special.  As explosive as Denver’s offense was, Seattle’s defense was equally stingy.

#1 Offense – Points Per Game

Denver’s offense scored at a record clip this year.  They were setting records in nearly  every offensive category including Matt Prater’s 64 yard field goal.  Playing the #1 number ranked Seattle defense will require all Denver’s offensive firepower.  Many teams employ a bend but do not break philosophy, so it is important to see which defense matches  up with Seattle’s. The graph below compares each teams average points against for the 2013 season.

Seattle’s defense was amazing at holding teams to 14 points a game. Of the teams Denver has faced this year, only the Chiefs (19.1) were under 20 points a game.  The average scoring defense of Denver’s opponents is  17.5.  So while the average scoring defense is better than the average total defense, it is still in the bottom half of the league.

#1 Offense – Passing Offense

The majority of Denver’s yards and points come off of Peyton Manning’s right arm.   Their opponents through the 2013 season averaged out to be in the bottom half of the league in both scoring defense and total defense.  Denver’s only opponents to finish in the top ten in terms of passing offense were the Texans (3rd) and Giants (10), with the Titans(11th), Colts (13th), Ravens (12th) rounding out the top 16 in the league. As a group, the average wound up being  21. So the Broncos again played against teams that averaged in the bottom half of the league. This final graph illustrates the difference between Denver’s competition during the regular season and the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle finished the year averaging under 200 yards passing per game.  This is amazing considering how pass happy the league is right now.  Only the Texans finished averaging under 200 yards as well.  Most of the teams finished between 200 and 250.  So while the Broncos did not play stellar pass defenses, the yards given up by the other teams were not that far off from the Seattle Seahawks.

With Superbowl XVVIII being billed as a show down between the #1 ranked offense against the #1 ranked defense, it is important to analyze how each team earned those rankings.  While Denver’s offensive numbers dominated the NFL this year, it is apparent that they did so against much weaker competition than they will be facing on Superbowl sunday.  Hopefully their play makers will be up to the task.

* All statistics were retrieved from:
NFL.com, Nfl.com, DenverBroncos.com,

Changing the Game

I read an article on NFL.com by Marc Sessler in which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell discusses with Rich Eisen the possibility of taking the extra point kick out of the game.  His reasoning is that the extra point is so automatic that it is no longer exciting.

Now I can understand changing the rules to make it safer.  The rules surrounding the kick-off, helmet to helmet hits, and defenseless players need to be considered in order for the game to survive the onslaught of lawsuits by former players.  But they need to change the game to make it more exciting?

If excitement is really the focus, then why not eliminate all the extra TV time outs that slow down the game; or the reducing the time the replay booth can have to review a call and at the very minimum enforce the time they should be taking? It seems like replay is going the other way; more and more plays will subject to replay.  Is a replay delay exciting?

I am a traditionalist, so I wish to see the game remain as close to the football I grew up with as possible.  I hate the format for the pro-bowl, but who cares about the pro-bowl?

Does anyone really think that the game will get more exciting without that one play?  If they are going to force teams to go for the extra point maybe.  Take out the option part of the proposal and make teams only go for two every time.  That would make the game more exciting and make it relevant play to the outcome of the game.

Analyzing the #1 Rankings – Scoring Defense

A lot is being said about Denver being #1 in scoring offense going against Seattle’s #1 rated scoring defense.  Ratings can be skewed depending on the schedules of the teams.  I remember the Indianapolis Colts defense being a top 5 defense against the pass, but it was mainly because teams could run at will against them and rarely had to throw for a lot of yards.  So let’s analyze Seattle’s defensive ranking first.

#1 Ranked Defense

Seattle ranked 1st in total defense and scoring defense. They have only given up an impressive 14.4 points a game and kept opposing offenses under 300 yards a game.   These numbers are really impressive given the age of offensive explosion.  The rules are set up to help the offenses move the ball and score.

When analyzing  how good of a defensive unit the Seahawks really are, we need to look at their competition.  During the 2013 season the Seattle Seahawks finished 13-3 and captured the number 1 seed in the NFC.   Seattle’s defense ranked first in yards given up per game (273.6yards/game), points per game (14.4 point/game), and passing defense (172.0 yards a game).

During that run they played the following teams:

  • Carolina Panthers
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Houston Texans
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Tennessee Titans
  • Arizona Cardinals
  • St. Louis Rams
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New Orleans Saints
  • New York Giants
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Arizona Cardinals
  • St. Louis Rams.

Of those teams only the 49ers, Cardinals, Saints, Panthers, and Colts had winning records.   So 7 games out of 16 were against opponents with winning records.

#1 Defense – Yard Per Game

Right there it is an indicator that Seattle may not have had competition that would be considered on their same level. The illustration below shows the total yards per game for each of the teams Seattle has faced and the upcoming Denver Broncos.

Denver is far and away the most prolific offense that Seattle will face all year.  The closest competition that they have had were the New Orleans Saints who failed to break 400 yards a game.

Of those competitors, only the Saints (4th) finished the year in the top ten in total offense(yards per game). Houston(11th),Indianapolis(15th), Arizona (12th), Atlanta (14th), and Minnesota (13th) finished in the top 20.  Again only 7 teams finished in the top half (16) of the league in terms of yards per game offensively. Seattle’s defense faced teams that combined only averaged 307 yards a game.  The Denver Broncos ranked first in this category averaging a whopping 457 yards per game, a full 150 yards more than Seattle’s competition.

#1 Defense – Points Per Game

Now lets examine how the teams fared in terms of points of per game.   Only the Saints (10th) finished in the top ten, with only the 49ers (11th), Colts (14th), and Vikings (14th) filling out the top 16. This next graph shows compares the points scored for the opposing teams to the Denver Broncos.

While nobody expects teams to compete with the record-setting offensive output of the Denver Broncos, analyzing what Seattle can handle by the competition they have faced is realistic. There is nearly a 12 point differential between the Broncos. The next closest team (New Orleans at 25.9).  How the Seahawks manage the Broncos scoring will be crucial for them to stay in the game.

#1 Defense – Pass Defense Yards Per Game

Finally, the Seahawks finished the year number 1 against the pass(yards per game).  Since they will be going up against a quarterback having the greatest statistical season ever, it is imperative that they live up to that billing. During the 2013 season, Seattle faced 3 top ten quarterbacks: Drew Brees (2nd), Matt Ryan (4th), and Carson Palmer (8th), with Cam Newton (15th), Andrew Luck (13th), and Eli Manning (14th) rounding out the top 16.  In seven of the sixteen games, the Seattle defense faced an opposing quarterback ranked in the top half of the league and still managed to finished first in the NFL against the pass. That is impressive and bodes well in their match-up against the pass heavy Broncos.

This last  chart illustrates the difference in the competition between the Broncos and the rest of the Seahawks schedule. The Seahawks and the Broncos finished first. In offense,(Broncos) and defense (Seahawks) respectively. However the competition that the Seahawks faced averaged in the bottom half of the league.

So while the Seahawks defense finished in the top of the league in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense, they do not seem to have been pushed like the Broncos are sure to do.

All statistics were gathered from:

NFL.com , Nfl.com, Nfl.comstats, Seahawks.com

 

2 Weeks of SuperBowl Chatter

With the two Championship games in the rear view mirror, there will be 2 weeks to break down every aspect of the upcoming game. I plan to be posting daily on the game, so stay tuned.

What great games we were able watch this weekend.  In the first game, Denver vs. New England, Denver’s defense bottled up NE’s running game.  I thought this is how the game would play out. It came down to the both QBs moving the ball.  Unfortunately for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning was razor sharp all day and had more weapons at his disposal.  On top of that, Brady was not sharp on this Sunday.  There were times when he overthrow wide open receivers.

The second game featured old school football with both teams delivering crushing blows.  I sat at the edge of my seat watching these players take a beating knowing the whole time that the last team with the ball would be winning the game.  It all came down to a great play by Richard Sherman to tip the ball to his teammate to ice the game.

While the game was great, I did not think Colin Kaepernick was.  He ran for 130 yards.  That is a large number for a quarterback, but should the quarterback’s rushing numbers be that high? It helped them to a 10-0 lead, but what happens when the defense adjusts and stop turning their backs on the quarterback?  He has to throw the ball.  Kaepernick struggled throwing the ball.  When forced into being a throwing quarterback, Kaepernick had 3 turnovers.   That is not a good game simply because he had some many rushing yards.  A good quarterback finds ways of keeping his team out of having to come back from 3 turnovers.

This Superbowl is going to feature 2 very different philosophies.  Seattle wants to run the ball and play great defense, while Denver lives off the arm of Peyton Manning(though they can run the ball) and playing bend but don’t break defense.  I think after watching the games, I would give the Broncos the edge depending on the weather. Either way this should be a great game to watch.

Divergent Series – Insurgent – A Review

INSURGENT

Veronica Roth. Katherine Tegen Books. 525 Pages.

Veronica Roth continues the Divergent saga with this second installment.  The novel begins with its central character trying to make sense of how her world has changed in such a short time.  The Erudite and Dauntless have waged war on the Abnegation, in essence destroying the Abnegation faction.

Only a handful of them survived and they are trying to find sanctuary from the Erudite, who are in the process of consolidating their power. Tris is now trying to understand why the Erudite attacked the Abnegation.  She thought it was simply a power grab, but Marcus made her believe that it had to do with a secret the Abnegation were keeping; a secret so powerful they were will to destroy the Abnegation to get their hands on it.

Helping Tris are Tobias (Four), Marcus (Tobias’s father), Caleb (Tris’s brother), and Peter from their Dauntless initiation training.  Tris, Tobias, and Marcus are each vying for a leadership role in the direction that their journey will take.  Tobias’s interest is to bring down the Erudite and protect Tris in the process; Marcus is determined to bring down the Erudite and return to power, and Tris is trying to learn the secret that Marcus has and Erudite wants, bring down the Erudite and return peace to the city, and protect her relationship with Tobias. Neither Tobias, nor Tris trust Marcus, but neither do they much of a choice.

Roth introduces the reader to Johanna, a kind of leader of the Amity faction.  She provides a safe house for the refugees, but will not pick a side in the conflict because of the Amity only desire peace and happiness(which they enforce with a happy serum).

A Dauntless hunting party searches the Amity compound forcing the group to splinter and flee.  The refugees head to the outskirts of the city to hide among the factionless.  These are initiates who failed out of the training and were forced out of their factions.

Among the factionless, Tobias finds that his mother Evelyn alive and leading them.  She was supposed to have died some time ago, but she faked her death and fled to the factionless to escape her abusive husband Marcus.   She is leading the factionless with a zeal equally to Marcus and is planning to usurp the Erudite’s power for her own.

The group then travels to a safe house among the Candor, where they are arrested for crimes against humanity by a squad of Dauntless that is stationed there.  They are informed that the leaders of the Dauntless and Erudite have conspired to blame Tobias and Tris for the attacks on Abnegation.  They have circulated a video tape of Tobias working the computers that controlled the simulation while he was under the serum.

The Candor use a truth serum that exonerated Tris and Tobias.  The groups soon learn that there are other Dauntless exiles here that have split from their faction.  Eventually the group is forced from their Candor sanctuary by the Erudite/Dauntless forces.

To save her friends, Tris decides to give herself up to Jeanine Matthews for testing.  Jeanine subject Tris to a series of tests in an attempt to develop a stronger serum to control the divergent. Eventually Tris is scheduled for execution.  Tobias attempts to hatch a plan to save her, while the refugees from Abnegation and Dauntless form an alliance with the Factionless as the climax of the novel sprints at full speed toward its conclusion.

This second novel continues to build speed through.  The reading is continually building speed and rarely slows down. Veronica Roth does not waste the reader’s time with useless subplots.  Every bit of this novel pushes the plot at a feverish pace.  Every time you believe you have the story figured out, she twists it enough to keep you reading.

The writing is crisp and enjoyable.  Her characters are believable and true to their nature.  It seems like she is continuing her commentary on human nature by showing how hard it is to escape who they are.  Caleb and Peter return to their former factions without regard for their friends or family, while Tris continues to take chances with her life to protect those she cares about.

There is enough inner conflict with the main characters to keep the character jumping off the page, but not so much they become clichéd melodrama.  Tris battles the demons of having killed her friend in Divergent while keeping it from Tobias.

Insurgent is a wonderfully written second novel that continues her develop her vision of this dystopian future.  It remains a delight to read, as well remaining plausibly relevent as Scientists continue to attempt to genetically manipulate the children of those seeking fertility treatments.  This is a future that can easily become a reality.

A Review of The Book Thief

My wife picked The Book Thief for our date night and I am happy that she did.  She knew the name because I had mentioned the novel from school.  I have not yet read the novel, but it was highly recommended by friends of mine in the MAT program.

We saw the movie on a very small screen at a discount movie theatre in our area.  The audience looked like the retirement home had bused in the occupants for a field trip.  It made sense once we began watching the movie it became apparent why.

Brian Percival delivers a beautifully shot period piece about a young girls life in Germany during WWII.  Little Liesel, played wonderfully by Sophie Nélisse, is taken into foster care and placed with Hans and Rosa(played equally brilliantly by  Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson).

The movie follows Liesel as she tries to make new friends on Heaven Street.  Percival does a wonderful job of presenting life in the back drop of Nazi opposition.  He provides the regular German people with a humanity that is usually missing when people discuss Germany and WWII.  Liesel makes friends with young Rudy (Nico Liersch), who is always trying to steal a kiss from her.

Just as Liesel starts to fit into her new world, Max(Ben Schnetzer) seeks shelter from Hans because of a debt Hans owes to Max’s father. The family takes in Max, who is on the run because of his Jewish heritage, and hides him in the basement.  Liesel becomes enamoured with Max due to his mirrored loss of family.

Little Liesel survives the trials and tribulations of WWII by clinging to her love of books.  She steals a book when her brother is killed, when she attends a book burning in Germany, and when she is expelled from the Burgermeister’s house for reading in his library.

The acting in this movie is tremendous.  Geoffrey Rush’s, of Pirates of the Caribbean fan,  portrayal of Hans is phenomenal.  Playing the frail old painter fighting to maintain his humanity within a society demanding conformity to the party line provides great heart to his character.  My wife began to tear up when Hans is conscripted following his standing up for a Jewish character being taken by the SS.  His character is heart warming and sad at the time.

Emily Watson’s rendition of Rosa is equally endearing.  When she enters the movie, the audience meets a very frigid, miserable woman that doesn’t really care about anyone.  That all changes during Max’s stay with the family, highlighted by Rosa breaking down at Liesel’s school when Max wakes up from his coma.  It is heart warming scene and the audience realizes that Rosa’s bitterness is really just a facade she has erected to protect herself from the dangerous environment in which she lives.

In my opinion, little Rudy was the star of every scene in which he was seen.   His determined courtship of Liesel had me rooting for him.  I was waiting for Liesel to finally give in and give him the kiss that he definitely earned.  His character was smart, funny, and loyal throughout the movie.  I actually had a laugh-out-loud moment when Rudy wiped mud all over him and ran a sprint pretending to be Jesse Owens.

While I thought the acting the movie was brilliant, I thought the story telling was patchy at times.  While not having read the novel, I had the feeling that Percival was trying to include all the novel without making cuts that would make the movie more  complete.

Point in case, when the family takes in Max, I waited for it to be meaningful.  Would his death affect Liesel’s life, or would they get caught? He stays with them for an undetermined amount of time and then leaves to protect them.  Was there a greater danger now than for all that time he stayed with them?  I felt like I was missing the point of him being there.

Then there is when Hans gets conscripted as a punishment for standing up for the Jewish character and returns two scenes later.  Why show him being sent away and return so quickly? Did it advance the plot of the movie?  I didn’t feel like it did especially with what happens in the next few scenes.

For my wives part, she didn’t feel like having the narrator be Death was necessary, but she didn’t mind it either. I actually liked Death’s part in the storytelling.

Overall, I really liked this movie.  Even though I felt that the story was fragmented in parts, the acting and the filming more than made up for it.  I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone and will be getting the dvd copy when it comes out.

Divergent Series – Divergent A Review

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DIVERGENT

Veronica Roth. Katherine Tegan Books. Copyright 2011. 487 pages.

I recently finished reading the Divergent Series over Christmas break.  I am a huge fan of Dystopian fiction and this series intrigued me.  This was an interesting read.  Roth’s writing style is very inviting and easy to maintain for most level young adult readers.

Divergent opens with its central character, Beatrice Prior, preparing for her final day of school before the choosing ceremony.  Roth develops the setting in a futuristic Chicago where the city is divided into 5 different factions: Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless.  These factions are filled through a Choosing Ceremony that requires 16 year olds from every faction to participate in an aptitude test.

This test is designed to test a candidate’s personality through a series of hallucinations that force them to make decisions that reveal dominant aspects of their personalities. These tests are administered using serum.  Roth uses serum as a dominant device to progress the plot.  When the test is finished, a candidate is given a recommendation of which faction they belong in, but the candidate can choose to remain in their original factions.

Each of the factions value different personality traits.

Abnegation values a selfless person that lacks vanity and desires to help everyone before themself.  They wear grey and possess an unassuming nature.  This faction is the ruling party. Beatrice and her brother Caleb start in this faction.

Erudite value individuals who are intelligent and constantly searching for more information.  They lack emotional tendencies in favor of logic.  Those they seem more ambitious in attempting to control all the other factions.  They are the creators of the different serum.  They tend to wear blue.

Dauntless value courage above all else.  A member of Dauntless charges into battle without fear or forethought.  This faction is mostly in charge of security of the city, so they have most the weapons and train constantly in combat techniques.  Dauntless are often tattooed and pierced.  Their clothes are tight and somewhat revealing.

Candor value the truth more than anything.  They enjoy debating, but not taking action.  They make their candidates admit their deepest secrets at initiation to open them up to all the members.  They want members that hide nothing.

Amity value happiness.  They use drugs to help maintain a constant peace among their members.  They tend to wear yellow and red. They are the growers of fruit for the city.

After taking the aptitude test, Beatrice discovers that she has a divergent personality.   This means that she is considered a dangerous anomaly in the city.  Instead of one dominant personality trait, Beatrice has three.

After the choosing, both Beatrice and Caleb decide to leave Abnegation.  Caleb chooses Erudite and Beatrice chooses Dauntless.  Their family is now fragmented as the two children go their separate ways for their initiation and training.

Roth focuses on Beatrice, shortened to Tris, through the novel while returning to Caleb and the rest of her family periodically.  Tris begins to excel in her new faction; Dauntless.  She proves a fearless initiate as she climbs the ranks.

The training in Dauntless is brutal.  Men and women fight daily in arenas against each other until one is no longer capable of continuing.  While the training seems in-line with military style training to break down a candidate and rebuild them stronger, Roth reveals that the training has recently been changed to a more brutal and merciless form to develop tougher members.  This foreshadows some sort of need for these battle skills in the future.

It is during initiate training that Tris meets Four (a nickname because he only has four fears) and the two become romantically involved.   The Dauntless use a serum to reveal a member’s fear in order that they should face them.  Tris has the power to manipulate or resist the serum because she is divergent.  It is during this period that she learns that people with divergent personalities are disappearing from the population.  The rumor is that they are being killed because they are dangerous.

As the action continues to rise, Roth reveals that there is a partnership between the leaders of the Erudite and Dauntless.  The Erudite inoculate the entire Dauntless faction with a better serum to test their fears, or so they think. The serum is really a battle serum that makes the Dauntless attack the Abnegation faction without mercy.

There are a few among the Dauntless that resist the serum, Tris and Four among them.  Now the reader understands that Four is a divergent as well. Together, Tris and Four, hurry to rescue Tris’ family during the attack.  They find the survivors hiding out in a safe house.  Both Tris parents are there, as well as Four’s (he was originally in Abnegation as well).

As the novel comes to its close, a group of mixed faction members, races to the Dauntless headquarters to stop the attack by ending the simulation that controls the Dauntless members.

This 1st novel in the series does spend a lot of time developing a sense of exposition for the reader, but it does slow down the action.  The reader becomes engrossed in Tris’s development in the new faction, all the time wondering what her being divergent is going to mean to the plot. Her romantic connection to Four doesn’t feel forced, and her character develops at a steady, believable pace.

It seems like Roth’s novel attempts to provide a commentary about human nature.  By isolating the different personality traits, she provides a clear view about how these traits affect humanity.  Since the Erudite follow only logic without emotion, it could be  commenting on science’s zealous search for higher understanding without an emotional connection to the world it is trying to understand (cloning, nuclear power, Large Hadron Collider). And since the Dauntless favor only violence without compassion, then it  seems to illustrate the countless periods of history where the stronger more violent factions of humanity dominated the meeker factions.  When you combine intelligent and ambitious leaders with extremely violent followers, the results can be catastrophic for society.

Divergent is a wonderful first novel in a dystopian series that activates familiar surroundings and human characteristics with a dysfunctional society to create a wonderful novel that a reader can devour.

 

 

 

Naruto – 661- The Failed World?

It has been a long time since I posted on Naruto. I have been reading them right along and honestly I feel like the series is beginning to drag on, maybe that is why I have been slacking in my Naruto reviews.

With Chapter 661, Mashashi Kishimoto presents Madara as the most powerful ninja in the Naruto world.  He is reborn and instantly more powerful than all the ninja in the world fighting against him at one time.

This chapter opens with Kyuubi being ripped from Naruto and being returned to the 10 tails’ body. Gaara speeds off with Naruto’s lifeless body, determined to save his friend in the same way that he was saved by Naruto.

During the commotion, the Second Hokage strikes against Madara but fails.  Madara seems to be all-knowing against any attacks.  My real problem with how he is constructed is that no matter what he has to do he does it with ease.  It took something like 3 days and an enormous amount of chakra to seal all the tailed beasts into the statue.  Yet, Madara does it single-handedly, almost instantly, and without draining him of any Chakra.

The rest of the chapter centers around Madara’s desire to revenge himself on his brother’s killer; the Second Hokage.  Even though the Second Hokage is nothing more than an edo tensei , Madara relishes the opportunity to kill his brother’s killer.

While this story line  follows with Madara’s character construction, I think it is weak in moving the plot.  Madara is obsessed with his long-planned  destruction of the Leaf Village, but why wouldn’t his vengeance be more centered on the living members of the village?

I believe this storyline was really created a plot device to re-introduce  Madara’s love for his brother so that the reader’s can understand how the First Hokage is going to finally stop Madara using the Sasuke. Hasirama’s reason for using Sasuke is that he resembles Izuna Uchiha (Madara’s brother).  He is hoping to tap into Madara’s emotional connection to his lost family.

While the Second Hokage is fighting Madara, Hashirama offers to give Sasuke a jutsu that will trap Madara.   While the audience never finds out what that jutsu is, Sasuke races off to confront Madara.  Kishimoto uses one cell to close in on Sasuke’s eye.  I cannot remember if this eye was ever used before in the series.  It is a six pointed star with a 3 tip throwing star in the middle.  I will look through the old episodes and find out.

When Sasuke finally catches up with him, he drops from his bird with his blade to stab him from above.  Madara moves without looking and pins Sasuke.  Again the over-the-top Madara no longer seems real, or 3 dimensional.  He is a very flat character in which the reader believes can do anything no matter how over the top.

There is one thing about this installment that caught my attention.  When Madara is going to impale Sasuke on his own sword, he makes a statement that he is willing to sacrifice his friends, family, and even his children in order to build his dream country. Was he saying that somehow Sasuke is really his son?  If so, then what do we make of him impaling him after saying this?

After waiting for weeks for this chapter to come out, I was not disappointed by it. Both Naruto and Sasuke are seemingly killed in it (though I don’t believe it for a moment).  You can’t kill off the title character without being right at the end of the series, nor do I believe that Hashirama would teach Sasuke a new jutsu and he would die before he uses it.  There are too many loose ends that need to cleared up before either one of them can exit the series for good.

I am definitely looking forward to reading Chapter 662.

 

It All Fell Apart

After a miraculous comeback against the Kansas City Cheifs, the Indianapolis Colts season came to an end in blow-out fashion against the New England Patriots.

The experts cannot talk about Peyton Manning without bringing up that he struggles in the playoffs.  Now Andrew Luck struggled for a large portion of the game last week and still was being compared to Michael Jordan.    It was just the continuing of the “special” talk from the last two years that I have been resisting.

True Andrew Luck came back in improbable fashion against the Cheifs, but it was a necessary comeback due to his irratic play throughout the early portion of the game.  I am curious to listen to sports talk radio and see if there will be any “choking” conversation concerning Andrew or it will be “he did an amazing job considering their injuries”.

If you want to analyze whether th ere was any choking going on consider that during the regular season, Luck only threw 9 interceptions in 16 games.  Yet, in his two playoff games Luck threw 7 interceptions. While it was true that the conditions were not the best for throwing the ball, Luck continued to throw into bad places with the football.

I am not beating up on Andrew Luck. I still believe that he is a gamer.  I just believe that he shouldn’t get a pass because the experts believe that he is a “once in a generation quarterback” and do not want to be wrong.

If anyone should take any heat, it should Chuck Pagano, Ryan Grigson, and Greg Manusky.  The Colts continually under-produced for a group playing under a defense minded coach.  In the playoffs, they gave up 44 to the Cheifs and 43 to the Patriots.   Those are embarrassing numbers for a playoff team.

Ryan Grigson needs to take some blame for failing to provide this team with quality depth.  All Colts fans heard was that they needed to get rid of Peyton Manning because they wouldn’t have the cap space to sign anyone.  Well we signed Ahmed Bradshaw, Darius Heyward-Bey, and Trent Richardson.  All of whom failed to meet expectations.  Maybe the Colts should stop trying  to make the big deals and start making the smart deals.

Still this  was a good year to be a Colts fan.  They over-accomplished in my mind. Lets hope we have a productive off season.

Andrew Luck’s Coming of Age?

I have been a non-believer in the hype machine that ESPN uses to promote Andrew Luck as the greatest quarterback talent of our generation.  This weekend’s wild card game does not change my feeling on it, but it does make me a believer that this guy is surely a gamer.

As a Colts fan, I am critical of Luck’s play for the 1st two years because I felt like it was a mistake to let a 1st ballot Hall-of-Famer walk away.  So I judge Luck by the quarterback play I am used to seeing from the Colts since 1998.

Listening to ESPN, you’d induct this man into the Hall of Fame because of this performance.  It was great, so great that I lost my voice while watching this game on the TV.  When Luck hit T.Y. Hilton for the winning touchdown, I was jumping around like a fool.  Still quarterbacks should be made to earn their greatest through longevity, not be given it to help sell ratings for the sports networks.

When it was 38-10, I sat here thinking, “Our defense was never good enough to go the Superbowl anyway”.   It was no surprise to me that the Colts were losing, just not by that score.  I had predicted a low scoring affair.  Then I saw the look on Luck’s face and thought, “It’s not over.”  It is a feeling I always had when Peyton was behind center.  As the score began to narrow, I found myself believing that the Colts would pull it out.

That’s what Andrew Luck does, he makes fans believe that he can win no matter what his statistics look like.  In this game, Andrew Luck came of age in the NFL playoffs.