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May 29th, 2015


03:16 am - "San Andreas" bad as "Green Lantern" for no imagination, while making extraordinary seem predictable
"San Andreas", the new disaster movie starring Dwayne Johnson, is as bad as "Green Lantern", and for much the same reason.

"Green Lantern" had the capability to be among the best comic book movies, but it turned out as one of the worst. Its potential was in Green Lantern's power ring, arguably the most powerful gizmo in the galaxy — in the comic books, the power ring was limited by cheap four-color printing, but in the movies?! A Green Lantern movie is bound only by the writer's and director's imaginations, and they blew it. I can't remember a single wow moment in "Green Lantern".

"San Andreas" imagines the biggest natural catastrophe in history, a chain of earthquakes that begins in Nevada and follows the fault line toward San Francisco. CalTech geologist Paul Giamatti said the 1960 Valdivia quake had the destructive power of 10 nukes, so to unleash something that big on my old office building?! A movie with unbelievable capacity for ruinous special effects should be astounding, but "San Andreas" couldn't rise above stupid and predictable.

There's 30 minutes of backstory that could've been left out of "San Andreas". I'll spoil it here, but maybe you'll agree that if this crap weren't there to spoil, it would've been a better movie for 30 more minutes of earthquake chaos. Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino are a signature away from divorced. She and their daughter are moving in with real estate mogul Ioan Gruffudd, who's building the tallest office complex in San Francisco. They lost a daughter in a boating accident, which still haunts rescue chief Johnson.

All of that is unnecessary. They could've written the Johnson-Gugino-Alexandra Daddario family as whole and happy and together. Wouldn't change a thing about the drama that unfolds when a tsunami roars down California Street.

They stretched the movie across two states to give a reason for a film crew to be at CalTech with professor Giamatti, but they could've whacked the exposition, too — the audience doesn't have to be acquainted with the science of earthquake prediction for a movie about an earthquake to be effective. It's almost like they borrowed that from "Titanic", too. While San Francisco blows up, some of the extras die in bits stolen straight from "Titanic". The explanation of how the boat split and sank was fascinating in "Titanic", but "San Andreas" needed nothing of the kind. Earthquakes happen, on with the show.

The studio screwed "San Andreas" by green-lighting that shitty story by Andre Fabrizio, whose previous writing credit was the 4.1-rated "Vice", and hiring director Brad Peyton, who's done nothing I've ever seen — not even "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" — even the Bond-ripoff title says crap, but this is the guy they wanted to tell the story of the AT&T Park crumbling into McCovey Cove. Think of the sight gags this doofus missed: While the baseball stadium is falling into the cove, some of those kayaking nitwits would be grasping for souvenirs washing past. Wouldn't you *want* to see something happen to some texting dumbass?

They painted themselves into a storytelling corner by setting the Valdivia quake as a benchmark, so to demonstrate the magnitude of the event, they showed destruction from Hoover Dam to Nob Hill. But if they'd compressed the events in the five-mile radius that covers Alcatraz Island and the Transamerica Pyramid, nothing would've been lost in the big picture, while details like, say, a flying cable car or the implosion of the Transbay Tube could've been included. (Hitchcock buffs would've died at noticing the Montgomery Street apartment complex from "Dark Passage" or the cable car turnaround from "The Birds"; such details would've taken zero additional screen time.)

There was no sense of claustrophobia in "San Andreas", not even during the parking garage scenes. I bet if you've been on a BART ride through the Transbay Tube, you were more frightened by the previous paragraph than by anything you'd see in "San Andreas".

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May 22nd, 2015


03:46 pm - Agreed with @thehighsign about "Up in the Air," with hindsight
Herewith, 2009's "Up in the Air" completely spoiled.

I returned "Into the Woods" to the video store, saying "Know what this movie needs? Lots more Anna Kendrick, and lots less everyone else." So I rented "Up in the Air," figuring the movie that fetched her an Oscar nomination would fit that bill, though she wouldn't be singing. (In fact, she did sing.)

I thought "Up in the Air" was so good that I hurried to RottenTomatoes to read critic reviews. My favorite film writer, Dana Stevens at slate dot com — said she downgraded it from sparking to smug two days after seeing in, so it registered as a rotten tomato. She said "Up in the Air" was like a churro: delicious at the start, eventually congealing into its lard and sugar components.

Gee, I thought, did Dana Stevens and I disagree twice in a row? Because she wasn't crazy about "Avengers: Age of Ultron", either.

My brain spun while I tried to sleep later. Yay for me, I called the suicide. While George Clooney and Anna Kendrick fired people, the movie showed real and scripted reactions by real folks who got canned — when the scripted lady said she was going to throw herself off a bridge, I thought: "That's what's going to happen. She's going to kill herself, and it'll cause George Clooney and Anna Kendrick to take stock."

I was right. Usually, a movie gets poor marks from me when I predict the happenings (worst thing about "Dark Knight Rises" was the pair of teenaged girls beside me, one of whom nailed every bit like she wrote it), but in the case of "Up in the Air", it was an Oscar-worthy moment for Anna Kendrick and I'd enjoyed the movie so much that I waved myself off with 'eh, you've seen too many movies'.

But while I was turning in bed, it hit me that many people called the suicide, because it was set up in the imaginary Zach Galifianakis sequence. The audience was manipulated into accepting that something crazy like a laid-off employee "going postal" might occur later in the movie.

Whoa, I thought. That's what Dana Stevens was talking about. Her good review went south in a day or two, while the churro analogy suddenly made sense.

Similarly, the biggest surprise was Vera Farmiga turning out to be married with children, even though the character sold herself as free, mobile, and unattached like the George Clooney character, "but with a vagina," she said. Which turned out to be a lie, though we and George Clooney were all expecting the typical romcom "walk out of an important thing to run through the airport and find the beloved" ending. The big reveal was a blow to George Clooney and to the audience because we all thought she was falling in love. I don't think a frequent traveler getting some George Clooney enroute is going to say the things she said — again, it looked bad on reflection, like the chewed-up churro.

Yes, it was a happy surprise that they found a plausible way to get Anna Kendrick to sing in a non-musical movie, a karaoke version of my favorite Cyndi Lauper song at a company party. Totally reasonable, yet in retrospect, perhaps too convenient.

All told, I found myself falling in with Dana Stevens. "Up in the Air" was great at first blush, but seemed to weaken with each look in the rear view mirror.

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May 17th, 2015


08:47 pm - Clubhouse chatter — in the Gading Green Sox universe
Baseball players sat around in the team's clubhouse, killing time before the pregame rituals. Some played cards, some played a kind of indoor hockey with bats and balls, another read the newspaper. The reader guffawed: "Didja hear what the Babe said? Someone said he was making more bread than the president, and Ruth said, 'I had a better year than Hoover did'."

His teammates shared the laugh while mentally calculating Ruth's salary minus their salaries, then they stopped laughing. A voice rose over the dying laughter: "Neither of 'em had a year like Alekhine."

"Huh? Who's Al Yeckin?" said a card player.

"I know him. He's a pitcher in the Coast League," said another.

"No, you nimrods. He's the world chess champion. He just beat José Capablanca."

"I know him," said the guy who knows the pitcher Al Yeckin. The chess-savvy man was about to cut him off, until he continued, "he was an infielder at Columbia University. They called him Joey. Good field, no hit. Maybe a different guy, but how many Joey Capablancas are there?".

"Huh, no kidding," said the chess-savvy. "Hey, you know how you start hitting better after you bite a guy with a high average? Maybe I could be the next chess champeen if I bite Alekhine."

Another voice: "Too late."

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May 15th, 2015


01:36 am - "Ex Machina" is so far the best movie of 2015, and a huge improvement over "Her"
Depending on how you felt about 1982's "Blade Runner" and 2013's "Her", "Ex Machina" is either the first, second, or most recent outstanding movie about falling in love with an AI construct.

One of these days, I'll watch the director's cut of "Blade Runner," because I slept through the general release, and I couldn't answer the easiest trivia question about the book. (I think Philip K. Dick is best in small doses.)

I didn't like "Her" at all, partly because I don't like Joaquin Phoenix in general, while "Her" was dumb and predictable throughout. "Ex Machina", on the other hand, is an edge-of-your-seat psychothriller that should make you think and keep you guessing well after you've exited the theater. (Lbh'yy arire guvax bs Snprobbx gur fnzr jnl, hayrff lbh'ir nyernql pbagrzcyngrq gur Snprobbx shgher gung svtherf vagb "Rk Znpuvan", vg pbhyq puvyy lbh.)

A young programmer wins a lottery at work which sends him to his megarich CEO's secret lair where the boss wants him to Turing test an android. For reasons so logical that they had to be spelled out in the script, Caleb and Ava develop a very fast fondness for each other.

Reviewers have been reluctant to say more than that about "Ex Machina", because to talk about anything that happens in this movie is a spoiler risk. Trust the 90% critics rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and especially trust that the critics liked it more than the general audience (take "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2", which earned 6% from critics and 45% from the morons for whom it was made.

I loved it. Domnhall Gleeson evokes his father Brendan with a face that says everything (which the AI notes). Alicia Vikander is alluring and mysterious, like the best blind date. This is the second time I've seen Oscar Isaac as the boss who's hiding something — he was excellent as a troubled industrialist in "A Most Violent Year", and again in "Ex Machina", where he's Mark Zuckerberg if Zuckerberg were smarter, richer, and less of a schmuck. An important aspect of "Ex Machina" is the characters' voices. Like "Her", in which we can only hear Scarlett Johansson's hottest asset, Vikander's voice — direct yet innocent — has to beguile. Isaac sounds just like a programmer. Imagine a Californian accent with no trace of dumb beach dweller, that's the voice of Silicon Valley. I spent two hours thinking "Who does this guy sound like?", and not putting a finger on it, because he sounds like many, many people with whom I've worked.

I'm going to spoil one bit. I nailed it, and you'd've expected that. Had you been sitting beside me in the theater, you would've known I saw this coming. During the men's first conversation about differentiating human interaction from interaction with an AI, I thought: "First thing I'd do would be to teach the android to play chess." BAM, the next words out of Caleb's mouth are about how chess-playing computers have been a most successful test of artificial intelligence.

Grandmaster Joel Benjamin was a chess consultant for the Deep Blue team while it prepared Blue for the Kasparov rematch. They knew they were on the right track when Benjamin said: "Sometimes Deep Blue just plays chess," as if Blue were "alive", or better yet, "thinking". During the second Kasparov match, the world gasped at Blue's move with a real human characteristic: It was one of those moves that a human master couldn't calculate entirely, but "it felt right".

Which is the thing that makes "Ex Machina" the best movie of the year (granted, 2015 is just emerging from the weakest quarter for movies): For Caleb and Ava, "it felt right".

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May 13th, 2015


05:25 pm - Gone to Monument Valley. Never coming back, maybe. @ustwogames @ThinkFun
I love sliding-block puzzles. Naturally, you say, because sliding-block puzzles are logic-based with manipulatives in a square grid, like that other game you play.

My first experience with a sliding-block puzzle was with the "classic 15", in the traditional dimestore plastic frame. (Naturally, you say, the puzzle that chess problemist Sam Loyd claimed to have invented.) It was at my grandmother's (not the grandmother who doted on me like the first son of her first son, the other one) house, where I was glad to find construction toys and to be left alone. I discovered the 15 in a toybox, and when someone dismissed it for being too hard, well, you know how I reacted to that.

Lately, my favorite sliding-block puzzles are by ThinkFun (I thought they were more fun when they called themselves Binary Arts), one of which uses blocks that slide like chessmen (they call it Solitaire Chess, which annoys me because it's not chess — but which other words that fit on a boxtop form an apt description?), and Rush Hour, which uses blocks shaped like little cars.

Like Solitaire Chess, Rush Hour is also a misnomer, because there's no rushing at all. I tweeted at ThinkFun that the Rush Hour player isn't like a commuter, but like a parking valet (the game requires moving cars in a crowded lot so the red car can exit). Very good, they said, the game's original name was "Parking Lot", which probably wasn't going to market as well.

Yesterday I discovered the mobile game Monument Valley, which has racked up an unprecedented number of glowing reviews and awards. I've solved the first three levels, and if you never see me again, you can determine if I'm alive and playing Monument Valley by checking my progress on Google Play.

Monument Valley is a sliding-block game in three dimensions, where the gamescape resembles an Escher, and the object is to move the blocks to form a path for the avatar to reach the exit. The avatar — her name is Ida — encounters some kind words along the way. Gamemakers Ustwo describe Monument Valley as "an illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness."

No more description is needed. If you like sliding-block games, Escher-like constructions, and kind words, well, see you later.

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May 1st, 2015


11:51 am - Let's all go to the lobby and have ourselves a snack
Before the Avengers double feature yesterday there were trailers.

The Fantastic Four trailer did not evoke Fantastic Four #1 at all, but maybe that's what they want. It's even a different foursome that rockets into the gamma rays.

Ant-Man might not suck, though every comic starring Dr. Pym did. Casting Paul Rudd as a reformed thief was a very good idea.

I kinda hated "Jurassic Park" for ripping off "Westworld", and not doing it very well. The trailer for "Jurassic World" suggests that they took the good parts from "Jurassic Park" and amplified them.

Today I am a mentally-unbalanced, anxiety-ridden old man. Anxiety-ridden old men have to start somewhere — in the late '60s while the Zodiac serial killer was threatening San Francisco schoolbuses, I was walking home from school looking over my shoulder and ducking for cover. In the '70s, I was terrified of the next great earthquake. (I was lucky during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake because I was drunk from a Candlestick Park tailgate party, so addled at 5:04 p.m. that when the giant concrete bunker started shaking, I thought it was the roar of the pregame crowd.) Like most native Californians, I can sleep through earthquakes now, but the trailer for "San Andreas" made me feel 10 years old.

For many 50-ish nerds, "Star Wars" was a life-changing event. At 14, I was collecting comics, attending conventions, and watching movies, but "Star Wars" made me a drooling fanboy. The returns on Star Wars fandom diminished as early as "The Empire Strikes Back", and declined steadily for so long that I wondered if it was a bottomless pit. Any casual observer of popular culture sees that Star Wars fans are buried under an unwieldy pile of shit (most of which has been stricken from canon!). Some years ago, I changed my answer to "Star Wars or Star Trek?". That's a question like "Designated hitter or real baseball?" — you don't just flip a switch on that, it requires a rewiring of your belief system. The Star Wars universe and its fandom gradually turned into so much dung that giving it up was pretty easy. The trailer for "The Force Reawakens" made me cry a little bit — I'll wager if you're around my age, and had a similar experience with the franchise, the promise of that trailer choked you up, too.

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06:28 am - Age of Ultron is as much Whedon as it is Marvel, making it better than its predecessor
I was prepared for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" to disappoint. Runner Joss Whedon said in post-wrap interviews that Disney wrung the life out of him like it had several other directors of its Marvel movies, and my favorite film writer was lukewarm in her review.

And how to follow "Marvel's 'The Avengers'", maybe the best and certifiably the most successful comic book movie yet? I opted to see Age of Ultron in the 3-D double feature package, so if Age of Ultron didn't live up to The Avengers, then at least I saw The Avengers again. (And I'm unemployed, like the other time-to-kill losers who get in for one 2 p.m. matinee and stay for three movies.)

Marvel's The Avengers stood up to a fourth viewing, it's that good. If I had one quibble with Marvel's The Avengers, it's that it's not sufficiently Whedony.

If you're a Buffy or Firefly fan, there are things you expect from Whedon. For instance, Whedon's Black Widow is the Black Widow comic book readers have always wanted. The Widow from Daredevil comics in the '70s was there because Daredevil was still 10 years away from getting really good, and Natasha was supposed to improve the mix. Mostly she jumpstarted Matt's record as Marvel's primary "himbo". (The trouble with Daredevil was that his superpower isn't much, so his villains were laughable, and some writers threw women at him instead.)

Whedon and Scarlett Johansson gave us a Black Widow we could respect (and in Age of Ultron, she's the most womanly Black Widow ever — compare the Age of Ultron Natasha to, for instance, the Natasha in Kevin Smith's 'Guardian Devil'). Whedon's women are the biggest badasses in his worlds, but Whedon's first Avengers movie only gave us two: Natasha and Agent Hill.

Age of Ultron improves on Marvel's The Avengers in the best way imaginable — for Joss Whedon fans — because Wanda Maximoff makes it more than the new Marvel movie, it's the new Joss Whedon movie. Like Willow Rosenberg and River Tam, the nascent Scarlet Witch unfolds as the most powerful force in the story. Like River, she's a little unhinged, which Whedon exploits as a crowning moment for Hawkeye — Whedon figured out a way for Clint Barton the weak link (with a bottomless quiver) to be as important in saving the world as Thor the god and Captain America the superman.

Whedon logically included his classic TV elements — exceptionally powerful young women (sometimes in star-crossed romantic entanglements), mind control by superpower or by melding with machine, selfless wartime acts, big damn heroes sitting around the dinner table — in a movie that contemplates themes that drive Marvel's X-books (being human while being more than human or inhuman) and the fundamental Marvel comics notion that great power brings great responsibility, whether that power is derived from radioactive spiders, gamma radiation, or the best hardware the military-industrial complex can buy.

The fight scenes in Age of Ultron better appealed to me than those in The Avengers. In The Avengers, icky bad guys from outer space arrive through an interdimensional portal. In Age of Ultron, we've met the bad guys and they are us. Age of Ultron is a Terminator movie that would make James Cameron think "why didn't I think of that?". (Because James Cameron isn't Joss Whedon.)

The humor we expect of Whedon is there. Cap's shield is fodder for one great quip (Ultron, on its composition) and one good one (Black Widow, on its retrieval). While the Hulk was the comic relief in The Avengers, that's mostly Thor's job in Age of Ultron. Making Thor funny repairs the lasting flaw in the comics — his power as a god makes him as boring as 1960s Superman.

Reviewers are criticizing Age of Ultron for being overly packed with stuff. Too many good guys, too many bad guys, too much banter and dick-swinging. Their problem is that they're not nerds, or not genre-savvy enough to appreciate Age of Ultron as Joss Whedon's most spectacular accomplishment.

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April 29th, 2015


10:28 am - If Squirrels load the bases in bottom 9, @LazePXP is bound to crack me up.
Richmond Flying Squirrels broadcaster Jon Laaser said he saw signs that the Squirrels might win today after 11 losses.

I tweeted at him that I disagreed; I didn't hear a team ready to bounce back, though as a Squirrels fan, I hoped Laaser was right (he mostly is). I think it's a measure of Laaser's skill at describing baseball games that his listeners are well-enough informed to form educated guesses. I think I'm a nerd for interacting with baseball broadcasts through Twitter. (Saturday, I contributed a haiku for Jay Burnham's post-game ritual, which he used. I hope poetic license covers the hole in my math.)

Squirrels 1B Rick Oropesa was at bat; two outs in the bottom of the 8th, the tying run on first base. Oropesa was maybe my least-favorite San Jose Giant for striking out with runners on. I thought: "Oropesa will make an out here, helping the Squirrels to lose."

"Ground ball, right into the shift," said Laaser.

I needed a reminder about that detail. In the Class A California League, Oropesa disappointed for making too little contact with RISP. In the AA Eastern League, infielders get him out with the suddenly-popular defense.

Oropesa might not drive in another run. He has the same trouble as Giants Hall of Fame 1B McCovey, who also struck out a lot, but countered the defensive infield shifts by hitting many long flies.

*****

A minute after I posted this, Squirrels 2B Kelby Tomlinson popped up the first pitch for the third out, with the tying runs on base in the bottom of the 9th. Flying Squirrels are 3-14. At times like this, you fall back on the notion that minor league teams don't have to win while they're developing ballplayers; it's just more fun that way.

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April 25th, 2015


09:25 am - From the Gading Green Sox universe: Beer here! Getcha ice cold beer here!
After it was discovered that beer plus hot dog mustard plus vampire spit combines to form a lethal and icky goo, the office of the commissioner of baseball determined that it had to act swiftly "for the good of the game".

The commissioner of baseball and his right-hand demon brainstormed. "End beer sales in the third inning or at nightfall, whichever comes first. 'To reduce drunk driving accidents post-game, for the safety of all'," said the commissioner.

The brainy nerd demon shook his head. "Beer accounts for 25 percent of the league's revenue, sir."

"It does?" said the commissioner, surprised.

"Yes, sir. Beer, 25 percent. Corporate luxury boxes and branding, 25 percent. Season and gameday ticket sales, 25 percent."

"The other 25 percent?" said the commissioner.

"Fan gear sold to bandwagoneers and fair weather customers, sir."

"Explain."

"Whichever team won last season, sir. That franchise sells roughly 10 times more gear than the rest of the league combined."

"Ridiculous."

"Yes, sir. The fair weather customers are morons, but they keep the lights on. They also drink a lot of beer, because they generally don't know jack or care about baseball."

"Well, then. We have to keep the beer flowing for their sake."

The nerdy demon suddenly scrunched his face in thought. "I have an idea, sir. Excuse me," and he ran off to make phone calls.

In a matter of days, the Whoosh Brewing Company launched a massive ad campaign for its new brand, while ballparks across the land were forced to adopt a curious new policy. At dusk or the fifth inning, whichever came first, sales of the flagship beer brand Whoosh ceased, and ballpark beer drinkers had to buy the new brand.

"With all the taste and flavor you expect from Whoosh Beer," said the ads, "but with fewer calories: Whoosh Light!". Then came the tagline: "Chicks dig it when you see the light!"

The commissioner had a dubious note in his voice. " 'See the light'? ".

"Yes, sir. It's brewed with holy water."

"I see. And how are the initial sales?"

"Whoosh is pleased, sir. The fat people who drink diet colas are buying more beer."

"Is that sufficient to make up for the sales we no longer make to vampires?"

"Not quite, sir, so we increased the price per cup. And raised ticket and parking prices around the league."

"And this isn't enraging the customer base?"

"Of course not, sir. Sports fans expect to be screwed, and regularly. Not only have we raised the price of beer, we eliminated vendor sales in the stands, another significant savings."

"Oh?"

"Yes, sir. At the pilot ballpark, a vendor spilled one of the Whoosh Light beers on a fan…"

"A vampire, naturally."

"Yes, sir. We can't let that happen again, so we make the fans leave their seats, climb stairs, and stand in line for the privilege of paying $37 for a cup of beer. $58 for the extra-large souvenir cups. For $37 or $58, not a drop gets spilled. Ever."

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April 21st, 2015


05:16 am - 4/20
The stoner holiday 4/20 was a suitable day to visit the dispensary, while the dispensary across the corner from the Metreon Center gave away goody bags and medicinal hot chocolate. While I was there, the 420th customer of the day won an ounce of product.

Walking south on Sixth Street toward the train station, my audiobook (The Lost Wife, a Holocaust novel) was interrupted by a screech of brakes and blare of horn. I looked up to see a moron finish his cut between two drivers, causing the poor sap in back to stomp and swerve. The truly amazing thing about this reckless move was how unnecessary it was — the three cars were the only ones for blocks.

"You dumbass!" I yelled, not so imaginatively. Turning back to my path, I saw two security folks on a smoke break, agape.

"Can you believe that?!" said a round black woman, with the same look of stretchy-face disbelief I remember on Joan Rivers. "You took the words right out of my mouth!"

"I know it's 4/20, but does everyone have to drive like they're stoned?" said her partner.

"Holy shit," I said, passing the pair.

"Have a good day! Be safe!" said the woman. I turned, laughing at the irony.

Home an hour later, I got an email from Lynne Roberts, women's basketball coach at the University of the Pacific, with the header "Once a Tiger, always a Tiger".

Without opening it, I knew what it meant: Coach got the job at the University of Utah.

I've always liked Utah, home of Phoenix Sun all-star Tom Chambers, Kim Smith (a favorite Sacramento Monarch), and Morgan Warburton (a Monarchs draft pick). Smith and Warburton were on the women's basketball staff — I hope Coach keeps Smith, but Warburton has the same job as Pacific's Blakely Goldberg.

I don't think any of Coach's staff at Pacific can go with her. Associate head coach Davis' wife's family business is in San Joaquin County. Assistant coach VanHollebeke is marrying a Pacific fellow soon. Assistant Coach Petersen's baby is still kinda new.

I thought I could go. There are test automation gigs in Salt Lake City just like everywhere else in the world, and I think Seattle has forgotten that I'm coming.

Coach built a power at Division II Chico State, then guided Pacific from last to first and four post-season tournaments. Utah, which went to the NCAAs 15 times with Elaine Elliott, is at the bottom of the Pac-12, so it's another promotion/rebuilding project for Roberts. Utah couldn't've made a better hire, I reckon.

I think it's funny that Coach moving up to the Pac-12 means Tara VanDerveer is suddenly my third-favorite coach in the conference, when for 20 years she was the only women's basketball coach in the region that I could name.

A more surprising email came from a stranger at my WordPress site of Magnus Carlsen games. I don't know how anyone would find it — search engines don't hit it, and I haven't updated it since the Bronstein Gambit pages launched. Correspondent Dan Forbes gets it — he writes about forcing play and improving one's thinking at http://ultimaterank.blogspot.com/.

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