How Bad Is the Astros’… Chron Blog?

It’s October baseball, folks, and the Astros are in the postseason for the first time in 1,000 years. Hope and delight reign in the hearts of Houston sports fans, but torpor rules on the pages of the Astros’ primary blog,, where Astros fans often turn for news. Why?

If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that your phone or computer starts to struggle whenever you hit the Astros’ Chron blog, and here’s why: the Chron blog webdesign needs life support, stat. pages have 17+ adsAstros blog fail #1:

Too many ads. Soooo so many ads.

I counted 17 ads in this example (right), and I was generous. I only counted the giant Outbrain panel in the middle of the page as one ad. It has fourteen links, half to Chron sports content and the other half to the typical drivel that earns the Chron income — clickbait content like “9 MLB Players Who Are Actually Huge Jerks” and “Sofia Vergara: Her Hottest Photos From Her Adolescence Until Now” (because Vergara is a huge Astros fan, right?).

Click on the image to the right to see the detail; look for the green arrows which denote ads.


The Chron’s Astros blog also needs tuning to meet Google’s standards. I ran a random Astros blog page (about McCullers allegedly making a throat-slash gesture at the Royals) through PageSpeed Insights and compared it to a random ESPN article.

Google rates the Chron’s Astros blog as a 39 of 100 for desktop and a lousy 16 for mobile. That’s a failing grade by any standard, HISD or otherwise. Meanwhile, ESPN’s news-heavy page gets a 73.
chron astros blog page speed astros blog page speed espn page speed





Lastly I ran my sample Chron blog page through a website speed test and compared it with ESPN’s. Again the results aren’t pretty.

ESPN’s page weighs in at 1.7 MB, loading in 8.1 seconds on average.

The Chron’s blog page loafs in at 14.5 MB, loading in 47.5 seconds on average. It’s almost ten times fattier and almost six times slower.

This site’s no glowing example of web design. It’s pretty basic. But since we respect our readers, we try to make the reading experience welcoming and enjoyable.

We spend an inordinate amount of time at the Chron’s Astros blog. They’re tuned in to the happenings and all the games, and our lives would be poorer without their reporting. But it wouldn’t take much for the Chron to tidy up their web presence a smidge and make the Astros blog pleasant to visit instead of a teeth-gritting, disk-churning experience. Will the Houston Chronicle deliver? Or will they continue to treat the Astros blog as a low-brow basement useful only for penny-click ad revenue?

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astros blog speed test


Are You Allergic to BBQ? And Google’s Spoofable Emails

allergic-to-bbqYes, Virginia, There Is a BBQ Allergy

Allergic to meat and barbeque? I would’ve thought it impossible, but recently the intertubes and the power of science have proved me wrong.

According to CBS News, increasing numbers of people are afflicted with an allergy to red meat, ironically caused by the bite of the Lone Star tick, an insect hailing from my home state, the spiritual Mecca of BBQ. The symptoms are severe enough to cause victims to swear off red meat forever. Here’s one quote: “I woke up with very swollen hands that were on fire with itching… I could feel my lips and tongue were getting swollen,” and after calling for assistance, “I was losing my ability to speak and my airway was closing.”

When victims are bitten by the tick, it sets their immune systems into a defensive posture and introduces an “alpha-gal” sugar into the bloodstream. This sugar is also present in meat and some dairy. The victim’s immune system identifies the alpha-gal sugar as an invader and thus when it’s ingested from another source, like BBQ, it triggers a fierce, life-threatening reaction.

Who knew? Maybe Mother Nature is indeed restoring the ecosphere through guided evolution. Since I appreciate a fine burger, I’m not hoping to contract the BBQ allergy anytime soon, but I’d reluctantly submit to a Lone Star tick bite if it were part of an epidemic of such bites sweeping out from Texas to the rest of the country. Frankly, if we were a country of unwilling vegetarians, we’d be a leaner, healthier, stronger country. I would make the ultimate BBQ allergy sacrifice because I am a f***ing patriot.

And if there’s a renegade colony of militant vegans out there in Austin, living off the grid and stewing their own kambucha or whatever, reading this and contemplating the careful cultivation of millions of bloodsucking, BBQ-allergy-spewing ticks, well, maybe they’re patriots too. God bless America!

DKIM Embarrasses Google

Trending at the top of WIRED’s content right now is an article about how Google, PayPal, Yahoo, Amazon, and Twitter all have been sending email with weak security keys. The security scheme is called DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), named after my buddy Dave Kim, an Austin IT expert. Zack Harris, a Florida mathematician, thought an email he got from a Google recruiter was actually a sly test of his skills, so he cracked their weak DKIM key and sent a spoofed (fake) email to the Google founders.

Zap! Google quickly fixed the problem but didn’t give Harris the satisfaction of a response. Since then Harris has found this flaw fairly common across the ‘net.

So beware geeks bringing gifts to your inbox, because they may be scams. And of course, beware recruiters. Because recruiters are the new kings of spam.


The Walking Dead: Walking Away

walking deadThe Walking Dead is a popular show among videogame junkies and gamers after growing a huge audience quickly for AMC. It logged 8.1 million viewers in season two to take the title of “most-watched basic cable drama telecast in history.” A few quick notes about the way the show is evolving:

I haven’t watched the season finale, but the show’s writers are quickly losing my confidence.

I agree with Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker: the whole farm plotline has been a holding pattern, during which the characters got more neurotic, illogical, fractious, and annoying. It’s like watching reality TV.

Shane was a human last season; he was reduced to an animal this season and his constant bloodthirst and envy was almost self-satire. And Dale was one of the more likeable characters, but now he’s out of the picture. Andrea strikes me as a immoral mess with ridiculous action hero aspirations. Glenn started out smart and capable (remember the tank?) but has devolved into a wide-eyed sideshow, while Daryl, after having an overlong tangential backwoods adventure, is simply an abrasive freakshow. Carl is turning into Chucky the devil doll. Other characters like T-Dog and Carol are flat and underused. You could have a T-Dog drinking game where you drink every time there’s a scene that he doesn’t appear in. It’s truly sad to see a series with such potential disintegrating before our eyes.

These characters are wont to do anything at anytime, but there’s no consistency so viewers are simply forced to conclude that they’re all insane. And indeed that’s where I’m headed.


Gomez Airing This Weekend

Hello Indie Rock Fans

It’s time for your sporadic pop culture injection. This weekend, one of Austin’s proudest cultural institutions, Austin City Limits (the show), is airing the Gomez taping that this humble game writer was fortunate enough to attend.

Gomez, for those unaware, is a talented, long-lived, guitar-heavy ensemble from Ol’ Blighty. They got this odd appellation from a note they left on the door at an early show for a friend named Gomez.

Below is a video of one of the best songs from the show. ACL titled it “Behind the Scenes,” but it’s not an interview. Instead it’s a cool format that mixes performance video with footage of the prep and walkon. It’s as if the band is playing the soundtrack for their own tour video. It also includes a pair of odd still shots, the first coming at 3:21 and lasting for about six seconds. I wasn’t expecting the video to grind to a halt after spending the first 3/4 of the video in pure motion. My first reaction was to suspect some kind of glitch. Interesting touch that I think could be more effective if it were used more consistently.

This episode broadcasts on January 7th, 2012 on Austin City Limits. Check your local PBS listings for schedule information.


Some Thoughts on Ballet Austin’s “Mozart Project”

This game writer was at the ballet last weekend. A bit of a change of pace from puttering around in the Battlefield 3 beta.

And guess what? It was magnificent. Or at least the middle piece was, a collaboration between Austin composer Graham Reynolds and choreographer Stephen Mills called “Though the Earth Gives Way.” Set design by Michael B. Raiford deserves a shout-out too, as does the entire ensemble of dancers, who put out incredibly athletic performances into a kinetic, tension-filled, dramatic piece that elicited a standing ovation from the entire audience — the only performance of the night to do so. The primary instruments in the entire composition were a single violin and a single cello, looped to perfection by Reynolds and his able mixmaster Buzz Moran. Sure, the costuming was a little bit too stereotypically Germanic (anyone remember Mike Myers’ Sprockets skits?), but overall this was pure wordless astonishment. Just the music alone was muscular and fresh enough to feel like a work of national import.

The opening piece, “Wolftanzt,” though capably danced, especially by prima Anne Marie Melendez, seemed to be almost a palate-setter for the more innovative work to follow.

And the evening ended with a bit of a disappointment — DJ Spooky’s (Paul D. Miller) “Echo Boom,” which seemed awkward and closed in comparison to “Earth.” I give Spooky all the credit in the world for the motion graphics technique demonstrated in his text-heavy background visuals, but I must tear it all away for the timing and presentation. Rather than provoke thought with the text, he ran it fast and shrouded it in visual noise, giving us only the airs of philosophical thought without any of the meat. I also have to question Mills’ choreography in spots, where the booming, thunderous power of the dubsteb sound was minimized by fairly static, conventional paired movements.

In the post-performance Q&A, Spooky described his rationale behind some of the GPS coordinates and exotic photographed locales in his piece, which I appreciated in the same way I would appreciate someone’s home movies. I give him credit for setting out with high ambitions into new and unfamiliar media, and I encourage him to continue to develop his methods for visual and auditory communication. It’s not easy.


Keynote: Steve Jobs Announces iPad Newton

Steve Jobs Debuts iPad Newton at Keynote


World, meet the new iPad Newton. As suspected at Patently Apple, which noted in March that Apple renewed their Newton trademark, Steve Jobs announced at a conference keynote that Apple has transformed the past into the future by introducing the iPad Newton.

The iPad Newton improves on a number of issues that are well-known to iPad 1 owners. The WiFi antenna has been relocated for stronger reception, and the screen sensitivity has improved for typing purposes. Jobs also pointed out the product’s “downwardly compatible” mode which converts the iPad Newton to a black-and-white PDA with a maximum resolution of 336 x 240 pixels and the inability to differentiate between letterforms. Although included mostly for nostalgia purposes, the black-and-white mode also enables the iPad Newton to run off four fully-charged AAA batteries – for up to 7 minutes, according the presentation notes at the keynote.

Steve Jobs described the iPad Newton as the “realization of the original Newton’s promise to bring awkwardly-sized personal computing to satchels and man-purses around the world.” Jobs continued his keynote by listing the six women’s purses that are large enough to accommodate an iPad Newton or original iPad without a tailor’s or leatherworker’s expertise.

“We sold the Newton, warts and all, for $1000 in 1993,” Jobs said. “We’re asking $600 for this sucker now. Who says our products are marked up beyond reason?”

Steve Jobs Keynotes Dissected

Okay, we admit that Steve Jobs hasn’t leaked any such thing. In a long summer we have to amuse ourselves with something, like an imaginary keynote.

Steve Jobs’ keynote technique is something of legend, actually. Known as a Stevenote, a Jobs keynote is greeted with sometimes slavish anticipation and can herald the advent of industry-changing technologies. The Steve Jobs keynote even has its own wikipedia page. Persuasive and commanding, Jobs often opens with sales figures and performs a mock close as the anticipation grows for the expected announcement. Then he’ll turn around and return to the mike with the phrase, “There is just one more thing…” which usually elicits raucous cheers.

It’s corporate theatre – people cheering for a product announcement they could probably recite with 99% accuracy – but it’s certainly more entertaining that most keynotes, and the audience is in on the joke.


Blu-Ray Sale and Game Blowout at Hollywood Video

blu-ray-saleBlowout Blu-Ray and Game Sale as Hollywood Craters

Blu-rays, DVDs and videogames are bearing closeout sale tags at Hollywood Video as the crumbling of the movie rental business continues. We stumbled on this recently when rolling into an Austin-area Game Crazy, Hollywood’s game subsidiary, for the usual dose of videogame overexposure, and instead got a cold shot of business reality. The shelves were bare at Game Crazy, and next door at the Hollywood, all the games, Blu-rays, and DVDs were wearing eye-catching red sale tags.

This is actually the second bankruptcy filing for the country’s second-largest video and game rental company. Hollywood’s vomited red over the last several years, with revenues plummeting 30% from 2008 to 2009. They’re closing all of their locations in Austin, and two-thirds of all their locations, down from a peak of 4,500 in 2005.

Meanwhile, the #1 movie and game rental company, Blockbuster, is also riding the downward spiral, closing 1000 stores.

The game writer guy snagged several used games at tasty prices, but the movie offerings were weak. However, they also handed out flyers about an online DVD and Blu-Ray sale. If you’re not near a Game Crazy, try the online sale, where you can get Blu-ray movies for about $7 each, with free shipping, if you do it right.

Getting the Best of the Blu-Ray/Game Sale

The Hollywood Video site is behaving a little funky right now. When I first created my account, it showed me three addresses of complete strangers and asked me to pick my address. A little disturbing. And it showed an amazing talent for forgetting the 25% discount code that I got at the store.

So here’s what to do: pick out your DVDs and Blu-rays, and use the promo code 25PV. Make sure the code discount is being applied at every stage, because it will try to forget, the sneaky devil. After you’ve finished the transaction, go back in and edit your account. Delete your address entry so no one else can accidentally stumble on your personal information, Google map your house, and send ninjas to purloin your hard-won Blu-ray movies. My picks: Hellboy 2, The Simpsons Movie, and the Swedish vampire rework called Let the Right One In, which was a big hit at the last Fantastic Fest.


Television Poker Has Jumped the Shark

television-pokerTelevision poker has spread all over late night TV like an aggressive mold growth, and I realized recently that it’s leaped over the proverbial shark, several times. No great revelation there, but it really sunk home for me the other night when I surfed into a game where Phil Ivey was at the table eating leftovers out of a pie tin while the other players discussed apartment hunting.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the antithesis of gripping, edge-of-your-seat television. Poker isn’t the most dramatic sport to watch (and arguably not even a sport), but I felt like at any minute Joe the Plumber might bust in with a twelve-pack of Natty Light and some generic pizza rolls.

I got into Texas Hold ‘Em — and yes, made some money playing online poker — back in the days of Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo. The poker on that show wasn’t always professional, but it was usually funny, light, and interesting if one of the guests was an actor or personality whom you admired. Those were some fun times. Looks like they’re gone now.


Best Halloween Costume Ever

Credit for spotting this goes to one of my friends on Facebook. I can’t remember who but you’re welcome to identify yourself.

1105980_pumpkin_treeI grew up in a college town, and one Halloween our doorbell rang and we opened the door expecting to see trickortreater—but what was in front of our open door—was another door! Like, a full-on wooden door, that had a sign that said “Please knock.” So we did, and the door swung open to reveal a bunch of college dudes dressed as really old grandmothers, curlers in their hair, etc, who proceeded to coo over our “costumes” and tell us we were “such cute trick or treaters!” One even pinched my cheek. Then THEY gave US candy, closed their door, picked it up and walked to the next house.