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Archive for June, 2007

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Welcome to ahelms.com. I switched web hosting companies Friday (ditched godaddy.com for asmallorange.com). I made the switch because I needed more flexibility in terms of permissions and I wanted to make the site more robust. I believe everything on the front-end should be as it was; the only change is a change in the RSS feed. The new feed is the intuitive http://ahelms.com/feed/rss/ for posts and http://ahelms.com/comments/feed/ for comments.

If you notice a problem, please send me an email or leave a comment.

Thanks for visiting. Have a great weekend.

meebo is the future

The Internet is getting continually more accessible at faster speeds from more devices. As a result, we are seeing the proliferation of web 2.0 applications.

meebo.com is one of my favorites. It describes itself as “a website for instant messaging from absolutely anywhere. Whether you’re at home, on campus, at work, or traveling foreign lands, hop over to meebo.com on any computer to access all of your buddies (on AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ and Jabber) and chat with them, no downloads or installs required, for free!”

I’ve been using meebo for about 18 months. It is a zero-download, zero-footprint web 2.0 application that runs on just about any browser. What makes meebo powerful and popular is that you don’t give up core chat functionality like saving chat histories and using emoticons and customized fonts. Its all about consolidation. In order to chat with friends or colleagues on nearly any IM network, you only need a browser and an Internet connection. As if that isn’t cool enough, meebo added the ability to embed chat widgets like you see on the right of this page on any website. So you can chat with me by simply clicking in the widget’s type box like you would any IM client. meebo users also have a permanent chat room available for use. So I can invite five people who are signed into different IM networks (AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ and Jabber) to come to my room and chat. All pretty cool stuff.

It doesn’t take a visionary to see that meebo and applications like it are the future. The implications of web 2.0 are practical, far-reaching and seemingly endless. Computers will be functional terminals, gateways to tools, media, information and settings stored elsewhere. There will be no need for physical disk drives or DVRs because everything will be on-demand, all the time. Digital Rights Management (DRM) licenses will replace CDs and DVDs. Instead of storing your itunes library on your home computer or ipod, you’ll simply own the rights to listen and/or watch media that are stored in online repositories. The future is going to be a cool place.

The White Stripes: Icky Thump

Icky Thump I was late in jumping on the White Stripes’ bandwagon. I never really got into the songs played on the radio. After Jack Johnson covered We’re Going to Be Friends during a concert I downloaded from archive.org ,I decided to check out what all the buzz was about. I’ve been a big fan of The White Stripes ever since. For my money, the best attribute of The White Stripes is their diversity. From the instruments and voices Jack and Meg use to the musical genres they cross, there is no doubting the creativity and originality of The White Stripes. On the latest album there is a decidedly more bluesy feeling, but not just blues as bagpipes are heard on one of the songs. An early favorite song is You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told). Like the albums preceding it, Icky Thump will endure due to its quality and diversity.

Lifehouse: Who We Are

Who We Are In college, Lifehouse’s album No Name Face got more play on my sweet Aiwa stereo than just about any other album. The ambiguously Christian lyrics were fitting. I still enjoy that album more than those that followed. The new album probably won’t change that because of the phenomenon that attaches music to place and time, but it will come the closest. Who We Are’s songs are distinctively Lifehouse: a slow build-up, breathy lyrics, then a thumping drum with a catchy chorus. Lifehouse isn’t breaking any new ground, but I don’t mind.

US 2 Mexico 1, Gold Cup 2007 Final

What a game. When you get to the finals or even semifinals of a lot of major tournaments, often teams will play cynically. Players and coaches seem more intent on not making mistakes. The suspense is there but the enjoyment is missing. In yesterday’s Gold Cup final, none of this was the case. Both teams honored the beautiful game by coming out and playing positively and, for the most part, cleanly. Mexico took it to the US for the majority of the first half and deservedly led 1-0 at the break. That’s not to say that the US did not create good chances. Johnny Chivas (Bornstein) made an enterprising run from his left back position into the middle and unleashed a bullet that bulged the net, but on the wrong side of the post. The best player of the half was Nery Castillo. He figured out early that he could beat Jonathan Spector for pace and he took full advantage. Castillo swapped sides and opportunistically took advantage of a mis-shaped US side to create a tap-in for Guardado. Bornstein and Spector were caught forward and so Onyewu was drawn out wide to man-up on Castillo. Perhaps a Frankie Hedjuk or Michael Bradley would have provided better cover for Bornstein and the backline. Regardless. credit Mexico and Castillo; it was a quality goal.

Before the break, Bradley wisely switched Donovan and Dempsey because neither were having an impact. Donovan quickly got involved more from his deeper position and created good opportunities for Ching and Dempsey that both went wanting. To start the second half, Bradley injected energy into the game in the form of Ricardo Clark. Mastroeni seemed a step slow and was not providing the cover necessary for the US back line.

The changes paid off when Ching expertly turned his defender in the box and was clearly tripped. Donovan buried the ensuing PK and the game was tied. Not 10 minutes later, the US was still pressuring and on a poorly cleared corner kick Feilhaber hit a dream volley into the upper far post corner. What a moment for the emerging midfielder. The rest of the game had everyone on the edge of their seats. Ching and Beasley both missed empty nets, truly empty nets. Unbelievable. Timmy Howard stood on his head to save a point-blankshot from the man with the world’s smallest pony tail: Adolfo Bautista.

After four minutes of stoppage, the celebrations began at Soldier Field and at my house. We still own Mexico. In a rare show of good sportsmanship, two Mexican players exchanged jerseys with US players. Ever since the US beat Mexico in Columbus in 2001 in La Guerra Fria, a match I attended, the Mexicans have refused to shake hands and/or exchange jerseys as is customary in the beautiful game. Hugo Sanchez also shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Bob Bradley, another sign of new respect from our CONCACAF rivals.

The final was everything we waited for, a great day for US soccer.

RSS, Widgets, iGoogle

Google has not surprisingly developed and released Google Reader and iGoogle, two of the coolest tools that make reading RSS feeds and keeping up with whatever you want to keep up with easier. I personally prefer Google Reader strictly because of the Share feature. I can read an article or clip in the Reader and if I want it to appear on the ‘Shared Items’ widget on my Shared Items page, I only need to click one button. A widget is an embedded object in a webpage, also sometimes referred to as gadgets, snippets and flakes. Examples of widgets on my site are the meebo chat widget (which allows you to chat with me if I am signed into my meebo account directly from my website), the flickr slideshow (you can see by clicking the flickr page), and the aforementioned shared items page. Widgets are really cool.

The power of RSS and widgets is the power of portability, consolidation and convenience. No longer do you have to waste your time and energy pointing, clicking, and typing to go to different websites to find new and interesting content. By clicking one of the four(!) RSS feeds links on my website, you can subscribe to my posts and/or comments and thus can see if there is new content without visiting the site. If you have an RSS reader configured, you need only click the button on the top left part of the page or the RSS link in the Meta section. If you use one of Google’s tools, I’ve added the aptly named ‘Add to Google’ button so you can easily subscribe to my site. After subscribing, the RSS reader will automatically show the title and/or content of my posts sorted in ascending order by date posted. Depending on your reader, you can either view the content of the post by clicking on the entry or directly in your reader. You’ll see that other not-as-cool sites like the Economist, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, youtube, etc all have RSS feeds so you can check to see if any of their content is new or interesting too. Pretty cool.

iGoogle is Donna’s tool of choice for the moment. iGoogle is more than just an RSS reader because it allows users to add tabs and widgets to their iGoogle page. Predictably Donna added this really cool website, a games tab, weather info, a countdown to our trip to Linthicum, a Picasa widget with her photo albums, and a NY Times feed among other things. iGoogle is in essence a flexible, robust, dynamic one-stop shop. Google has also made it easier for non-developers to create and share widgets.

US 2 Canada 1, Gold Cup 2007 Semifinal

A match that the US seemed to have control of after scoring two first-half goals became a little too interesting after a nice goal by Canada and a poor decision by Michael Bradley. Bradley’s studs-up, from behind tackle on Julian deGuzman was foolish and fully deserved the tarjeta rojo from the Mexican referee. It was a shame because Bradley had an excellent match; he covered tons of ground and distributed well. It is also a shame that Frankie Hejduk will miss the final after getting a yellow for reacting to a weak DeRosario head-butt. Hejduk has had an excellent tournament and he always plays well against Mexico. Guadelope is giving El Tri all they can handle at the moment though so perhaps we will be facing the tiny French overseas department that is a member of the EU!

The Canucks were unlucky to not send the game to extra time after scoring in stoppage time; the referee’s assistant incorrectly judged the goalscorer to be off-side. Not a fun way to win for sure.

How I feel now reminds me of how I felt after coaching a high school playoff match with my dad. After a rough start to the season, we moved our best player to sweeper. He hated playing as the last defender, but recognized it was best for the team and thus accepted his fate. His frustration boiled over, however, in the 2nd half of our playoff match while we were leading 1-0. After a nice tackle, he briefly tangled with our opponent’s striker. Next thing I know the sweeper lands a left hook on the guy’s cheek and knocks him to the ground, then breaks the kid’s rib with a kick. Thankfully the beating stopped because the striker never fought back. After the game, one of the (American) football coaches congratulated me on the win and said: “Hey, they don’t ask how…just how many.” Unfortunately this view was polar opposite to mine. Next match we lost 3-0 and I retired from high school coaching.

Alexi Lalas vs English Press

Mighty words: Galaxy president Lalas says English soccer is inferior

English ‘journalism’ and self-assessment when it comes to football both leave something to be desired. By the time a friend emailed me the article linked to above, I had read what Alexi Lalas actually said and what was being reported on in the English press. Lalas has said some really stupid things, probably today. He said he was going to build Red Bull New York into a superclub. Then he said the same thing about the LA Galaxy. He said the Galaxy wouldn’t let Beckham travel to Europe to play in friendlies for England when FIFA rules mandate it (he has since recanted). What Lalas actually said regarding the latest debacle, which is being misconstrued in the London AP article, is in this article in the Guardian.

Lalas called English soccer inferior, but he was referring to Spain’s La Liga. He talks about how there are only 4 teams who compete for the premiership and how most people who speak poorly about MLS have never actually watched a game. Brash, yes – but I agree. He also mentions how many MLS players could play in the premiership, something I also agree with. Look at the results of friendlies between MLS and Premiership sides. DC United has never lost to a premiership team. Look at all the Americans making their way into the premiership. English teams have way more money and thus depth, but clubs 8 – 20 in the premiership would fit in well in MLS.

Finally, let me just say that while I love the English they are delusional when it comes to football. Last summer they constantly sang this anthem “Football is coming home”, fully expecting to win the World Cup. They think they own the game. Expectations are out of whack when taken in context with recent results.

So, thanks Lalas and thanks ESPN for drumming up some interest in MLS. There’s no such thing as bad press, right?

Mika: Life in Cartoon Motion

I bought this album a couple of months ago because the album’s title is a play on the title of David Gray’s latest album, Life in Slow Motion, which is one of my favorite albums of the last two years and it showed up in the “recommended” section of my itunes store. A stupid reason to buy an album, I know. Before making the purchase, I did read enough about Mika to be intrigued by his background (Lebanon-born, London-based) and I previewed his tracks for the gracious 30 seconds itunes allows. What I like about the album is that Mika uses his voice interestingly: not always good, but almost always interesting. It is almost like another instrument. I’m a big fan of interesting vocals: Raine Meida (Our Lady Peace) and Thom Yorke (Radiohead) come to mind. The lyrics sometimes get silly and sometimes Mika sounds a little too much like Freddie Mercury, but the tunes are very catchy and the album has a fun tone: I’m glad I bought it.

US 2 Panama 1, Gold Cup 2007 Quarterfinal

Poor finishing plagued the US and kept the game within reach for Panama. Most days we would’ve been leading 2-0 at the half with Twellman and Donovan goals, but both found ways to squander golden opportunities. The goal is to win and advance, however, and that is what we did. Good games for Donovan and M Bradley, Donovan playing wide but with freedom to roam and Bradley pairing hard man Mastroeni in the middle. Beasley also continued his resurgence with a solid effort. Timmy Howard came up with a huge save in the 2nd half. Panama is a very talented and physical team, but equally undisciplined and disorganized. With a good manager and commitment from the players, it could prove to be a formidable opponent in World Cup qualifying.

For the group matches Donna and I hosted watch parties and served the cuisine of our opponent. For example, we served Tres Leches and fried plantains for the Guatemala match. Next up is Canada on Thursday in the semifinals. The opponents may not be getting more difficult for the team, but our task certainly is. How hard is it to fry up some Canadian bacon?

Canada has some fast, creative players in Deportivo La Coruna’s DeGuzman and Houston’s DeRosario. Their defense is slow though so Donovan, Beasley and Johnson should be able to expose them. It should be an interesting semifinal.

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