Category Archives: Rob’s Ramblings

Rob’s Monday column that will cover whatever the heck he feels like. It will include AARs, sports discussions, and reviews.

Rob’s Ramblings: Discombobulation

Greetings all

Like many of us, this is a discombobulating time. Events canceled like Gulf Wars, FantaSci, and March Madness. Concerns over family friends. And people will be talking of the Toilet Paper Rush of Ought-20 like they did the 1849 Gold Rush.

There are silver linings, though. One, I get to use discombobulation again and again. It’s one of my favorite words.

Two, I’ve seen people in various communities band together to help their friends and neighbors. It’s not unusual for these people to do that sort of thing, but it’s more obvious right now and that’s comforting.

But it’s still a discombobulating time.

As a writer and someone who works from home, I have some nice advantages. Obviously, if I have food, water, and electricity, I can do my job normally. Without electricity, I have to hand write things, which I can do, though my hand problems make that challenging. Still, I can get through a reasonable time and still do my job. That’s comforting too.

But it’s not without dangers. I am an only child and a tendency to get too withdrawn.

Worse, the cancellations and the discombobulation exacerbate my tendencies to hermit and dwell on things far too much. I ponder where things go and game scenarios out in my head. It’s a great trait as a writer, of course, but can often send me down the road to thinking too many bad thoughts. That’s what cost me September, along with fatigue.

Today I’m writing from Brewbakers. I suspect, I’ll be here most days during this discombobulation as long they can stay open. I need to get out and see the world and not simply through the lens of social media.

My suggestion to you all is to do the things you’ve been putting off because you didn’t have time. I’m going to throw myself at None Call Me Mother and work on some projects around the house.

I also suggest everyone look for cool things to do for other people. Discombobulations bring stress. The word is fun to say, but the experiences are often not. The more nice things we do, even small ones, the better we’ll all be when we get back to our normal rat race.

The best thing about doing nice things for people in a discombulated time? It has a tendencies to combobulate all involved.

Rob’s Ramblings: Cleared to Engage

Greetings all

This past weekend was the first weekend of the XFL. For many years I have been hoping for a spring pro football league and the XFL has been my best hope for while.

I would like a spring league not only because it’s more football, although I always want more football. It could also serve as a developmental area, because NFL teams just don’t have time under the current CBA to really do a bunch of developmental work on down-roster players. This is especially true for quarterbacks and offensive linemen who need full-speed repetitions to improve.

It is also an area to develop other aspects. Referees and coaches can also get more experience. If done right, it could be an place for innovation and experimentation.

The XFL held this promise, despite the fact that the AAF, which was announced at about the same, failed like every other competitor to the NFL.

Why do I think this will succeed when none have before? Vince McMahon is no idiot, and he wouldn’t try this again if he didn’t think he could make it work. He also made it clear he wanted innovations, not gimmicks. Where the AAF rushed to get their product to market, the XFL took an extra year to devise new ideas, test them for effectiveness and player safety, and make sure all the financial foundations were in place.

Now, we finally got to see the product. One of the major innovations was a radically re-designed kickoff system. Those who have been watching the XFL come together have been very curious about this one change in particular.

It was a huge success. So much so that I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become the norm for kickoffs within the decade.

And it’s emblematic of the innovations in the league. They promised a faster pace and they got it. Two specific rule changes were made to achieve this. One, 25 seconds between plays instead of 40 in the NFL. Two, there’s an official whose sole job is to spot the ball between play. A little thing, one might think, but I watched the officials make ready for play with an efficiency the NFL currently can’t even dream of.

The extra point has been revised, with 1, 2, and 3 point options. This has a ton of potential, though it’s clear coaches don’t yet understand all the possibilities. Punts have to be inbounds, but coverage guys can’t leave as quickly. We also didn’t see the double forward pass play used yet, but I see a bright future for it.

The closest thing to gimmicky was the immersive coverage. Cameras can basically go anywhere. There was one play yesterday when Jordan Ta’amu had to avoid a cameraman on the field. Players who made a big play, either good or bad, were interviewed almost immediately. It’s rough on the player to have to look into a microphone after a big mistake, but it’s fantastic TV.

And the broadcasts can let us all listen to everything that’s being said by the coaches and the officials via their radios. We can hear play calls as they’re being called. Amazing. When there’s a replay, we can hear the officials talking through the play and see them looking at their screen.

This last thing is huge, by the way. Everything is reviewable in the XFL, but reviews are quick, quick, quick. And we can hear them doing it. Sure, they pause the game, but not for a commercial. Instead, we’re seeing them adjudicate the play in real time and that’s a game-changer. Replays stop being boring and become entertainment in themselves.

Plus, let’s mention that having replay officials inherent to each game means they’re on the ball. Again, quick, quick, quick.

If the NFL doesn’t adopt the XFL’s replay system, and soon, they’re missing the boat.

And that’s exactly what I always wanted from a spring league. Opportunities for players like Ta’amu to practice his craft for a while and add innovation to the stodgy hide-bound NFL that sometimes gets too high and mighty.

Of course, none of this matters if it’s not good football. Fortunately, it was. All of the players were 90-man roster types, practice squadders, or even tail end 53-man roster capable. The NFL, by the way, has 90-man rosters at the beginning of training camp. By the end of camp, they have a 53-man active roster and a 10-man practice squad, which leaves 27 players to fend for their careers. That’s more than enough to fill XFL rosters.

Also, the difference between the 90th player and the 30th player is a lot smaller than many might think. Oftentimes it’s a question of opportunity, especially if a player gets hurt.

I suspect that many players might choose the XFL over an NFL practice squad in years to come. A practice squad player gets few reps, few opportunities to improve. An XFL starter gets a bunch.

In any case, the football this weekend was NFL-fast, fast-paced in terms of plays per minute, and filled with quality play. Sure, there were mistakes, but week one of the NFL season is filled with similar mistakes. QBs threw dimes. RBs made moves. WRs made great catches. Defenders made great plays. The offensive lines struggled a bit, but that’s to be expected and is exactly what we see in the NFL in week one and their struggles were often miscommunications, not a lack of ability.

And I’m not the only one to be impressed by the XFL. All across Twitter, people were talking about in. The vast majority I saw were impressed, including every NFL player, current or former, who I saw comment.

I’m excited because this will make football at all levels better and safer.

It didn’t hurt that the St. Louis Battlehawks, predicted as a major underdog, went on the road and won.

In any case, I’m hooked. I’m so glad we got season tickets this year. Go Battlehawks! #ClearedToEngage.

Rob’s Ramblings: Super Bowl LIV

Greetings all

Yesterday, I did a live thread on Facebook during the Super Bowl. Today, I’ll distill those comments and expand upon a few. If you want the original complete thread, you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/rhodri2112/posts/10158095267396085.

Before the game, I predicted the Chiefs to win 34-27, so I wasn’t far off. I kind of rooted for the Chiefs, in part because someone in my house had to and the stepdaughter is a huge 49ers fan, and in part because the petty Cowboys fan in me wanted Andy Reid to win for someone other than the Eagles.

Overall, I thought Patrick Mahomes was mediocre until the very end, Reid outcoached Shanahan by a lot, and Nick Bosa was the MVP.

The day started with some awkwardness. The Chiefs almost bungled the coin toss and Bill Vinovich, rightly in my opinion, saved them. He overrode a player who tried to say “We’re kicking” by saying, “You’re taking the ball” until the Chiefs finally agreed. The Chiefs lost the toss, the 49ers deferred which means they get the choice to start the 2nd half. Had the Chiefs chosen to kick there, the 49ers would have chosen to receive in the 2nd half, meaning they would have gotten it to start both halves.

After the Cowboys almost botched it earlier, the NFL either needs to streamline this process by asking if the team winning the coin toss wants to get it first or second half, or these special teams coaches need to brief their players better. I go with the first, because KC’s teams were really good and well-coached all year long. The reason, by the way, for the confusing option is to allow teams to take the wind, but with fewer and fewer games affected by weather, I think we should make that option one they actively have to choose.

One reason that didn’t turn into a hullaballoo, I think, was the great Jake from State Farm commercial with a new Jake which immediately followed. Great way to use all the old humor while adding more. My second favorite commercial for the night actually.

The opening kickoff gave us the first questionable decision, and that was Mecole Hardman choosing to return the ball from 5-6 yards into the endzone. Even for the best returners, this is an iffy decision. He got to the 26, so it turned out OK, but the risk/reward there between coverage, penalty, and fumble vs. long return just isn’t there.

Side note, the the 49ers teams played really well overall, and so did the Chiefs. Almost a great day for the Chiefs if Byron Pringle, who had a great game, could pull that ball out of the end zone on the punt with about 2 minutes remaining in the first half.

Patrick Mahomes made several mistakes right off the bat. He was clearly amped too much and I think that pretty much lasted until the 49ers gave him a coverage gift in the long throw to Tyreek Hill in the 4th. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Then we got to the first mistake, the fumble on the punt return. The 49ers got really lucky that the ball bounced their way, because Pringle fought through a double-team block to get there. Like I said, I thought he was great.

Then the 49ers took the ball down the field for a FG. This is how I thought the 49ers offense would look all day. Lots of great, intricate running plays with tons of misdirection and the occasional pass to take advantage of gaps in the zone provided by KC having to play zone.

Side note one here: We’re witnessing a revolution in the running game. Analytics is clear that passing is better than running. The average pass play, counting sacks, incompletions, and scrambles gets about twice as much as every called running play. The revolution has made running much more effective, but requires constant motion and misdirection.

I am unsure what defenses will need to do to adjust, but my guess is a dramatic change in actual kinds of defenders, moving to some sort of 2-4-3-2 kind of thing. The 2 are down linemen. The 4 are hybrid edge defenders. These will vary from a big ones to play a normal DE, to heavy safeties who will be faster than LBs but still can provide good run support. The 3 are CBs to defend the 3rd wide receiver (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR is the most common offensive formation now), and the remaining 2 are more safeties. I guess, now that I write it down, I think safety hybrids will become more and more valuable.

Anyway, back to the game. Whenever the 49ers offense ran first they controlled the Chiefs defense. I’m not surprised. The Chiefs defense is better than many prognosticators said, but so is the 49ers offense. 49ers 3-0.

At least, they are when their coach doesn’t play to lose.

I think it’s at this point we got the first Tide commercial. Man, I thought those were awful. Bland humor at best repeated ad nauseam. Overall, I thought the commercials were pretty weak. The ad creators tried too hard and rarely hit the mark. I’ll mention a few highlights along the way, though.

Then came another play not to lose decision by Shanahan. On the Chiefs’ second drive, they ran a 2nd and 2 play which was incomplete but the Chiefs also had an ineligible man downfield. Had the 49ers accepted the penalty, the Chiefs would have been 2nd and 12. They declined it to go to 3rd and 2. Amazingly, one of the best offenses there is managed to get 2 yards on the next play on the way to a TD. Amazingly.

Later on the drive came a real interesting play: (2:22 – 1st) P.Mahomes scrambles right end to SF 3 for 12 yards (J.Ward). FUMBLES (J.Ward) ball out of bounds at SF 5. SF-J.Ward was injured during the play. His return is Questionable.

Ward had a great and legal hit there. What’s fascinating with this play, though, is his hit turned it from a 12 yard gain and a 1st down into a 10 yard gain and a 4th down.

Andy Reid is a great coach, and he showed it time and again in this game. He went for it. Absolutely the right call, as I said before the Chiefs converted it.

And that doesn’t even touch upon the great play call on a play yoinked by Eric Bienemy from the 1942 Rose Bowl. True story. I’ve seen the replay of the 1942 play and it’s exactly the same. It’s a small misdirection to change the direct snap that gives the defense a small hesitation and on short-yardage plays, that’s all you need. They got 4 yards and a 1st and goal from the 1.

Side note: Eric Bienemy should be a head coach next year. Should have been one this year. He may not end up being a great one, but he’s definitely an offensive wizard.

Which showed on their scoring play. They scored on 2nd down with a brilliant play. I predicted a play-action pass. What I got might have been better. It was a play fake dive just like the play-action to create exactly the same crunch of defenders in the middle. However, Mahomes then went wide with an RB at his side for an option play. Two on one against the CB. The CB can’t win that, and he didn’t. Beautiful stuff. Chiefs, 7-0.

After that was the Tom Brady Hulu ad. That was cold and cruel. Patriots fans lost their souls for about ten seconds.

Bashaud Breeland was an early contender for MVP in my mind. He made a couple of great tackles on WR screens and he took advantage of Pennel’s great hit on Garoppolo to get an interception. It’s a real shame he got dinged in the 2nd quarter for a bit.

The Chiefs got a FG on the ensuing drive, though I thought Reid’s play calls were iffy in the red zone this time. His offense focuses on horizontal passes and yards after the catch, but sometimes you need to have at least one receiver going over the top. This has happened to him before and will again. It’s not a question of aggressiveness, just style. Anyway, 10-3 Chiefs.

Now the 49ers get the ball and have a chance to get back into the groove. One play they used on this drive was the push pass. This is essentially an end around/jet sweep from the shotgun. However, it’s technically a pass because the “handoff” is a forward toss. This is such a smart thing. First, it pushes the defense to be keeping to their jobs. Second, if there’s a problem with the exchange and the ball falls to the ground, it’s an incomplete pass, not a fumble. Great stuff, and Deebo Samuel is the perfect style of WR to use it.

Samuel, by the way, had a very good game and the 49ers could have used him more.

This drive ended with a 15 yard TD to Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk has been fantastic this year, and he was great in this game. 3 catches on 3 targets with a bunch of great blocks. He scored one of the 49ers TD and set up the other.

Now we get to a series of mediocre decisions.

First, Hardman took an end around on 2nd and 8 and lost 6 yards. At the end, he meekly went out of bounds. Awful. Even the Chiefs struggle to get a 1st on 3rd and 14. They didn’t. With less than two minutes left in the 1st half, if he stays in bounds, he forces the 49ers to think about a time out.

In any case, the 49ers should now expect to get the ball and expect to have a good chance to score. However, Shanahan didn’t think of it in those terms. He coached not to lose. The following play was a screen pass for only 1 yard, meaning at 1:53 left on the clock it was 4th and 13 for the Chiefs. You take a time out there if you’ve got 2 or 3 remaining. He had all 3.

But he didn’t take a time out.

This is astounding to me. If you take it there, you get the ball back with about 1:45 left and 2 time outs. Any competent NFL QB can look at that as an opportunity for points. Apparently Shanahan doesn’t think Garoppolo was competent. He basically rolled over and played dead.

Then, with 14 seconds left, the 49ers got to about their own 45. They could have been there with about 1:20 or so and still with 2 TOs even with the same play calls. At that point they’re really likely to score something. Instead, they are forced to try their only deep attempt to Kittle which he clearly pushes off to get a correct OPI call, but would have given them a chance at a FG.

So many opportunities for the 49ers to at least get 3 points. All squandered. And this ends up biting them in the ass.

We go to halftime. I’ve grown to dread halftime shows. They’re all boring and canned. This time had one highlight for me, a snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir which then went into a Middle Eastern style dance song. Other than that, I thought Shakira and J-Lo looked great for a combined age of 93. And meh.

To be fair, meh is a step up for many halftime shows. Prince, who I’m not really a fan of, is clearly still the best one. He gave so much emotion and soul to that performance. Clearly not canned. Clearly a great musician doing his thing. Most of the time, they lack soul. As did this one.

Anyway, we get to the second half. The 49ers came out and ran the drive they should have at the end of the first half. Lots of easy passes to receivers schemed open. They get a FG and are back on top 13-10.

In this commercial break we get the best commercial of the evening in my opinion, the Sam Elliott dancing commercial. It started kind of dumb, at first, but then got really funny really fast. The horse shaking his head, declining to dance, was a great touch.

Mahomes was bad in the 3rd quarter. Not much you can do to suggest otherwise. He had a couple of moments to start this drive, but then Nick Bosa took over the game for a while. He ended up having 12 pressures which is a ton. On this drive he gets a strip sack which Mahomes was lucky to corral.

Whether that bothered Mahomes or not, the next play he threw an awful pass made worse by the coverage and got it picked off.

Then Garoppolo leads another drive, this time for a TD. The 49ers have now shown they can run and they can pass effectively. In these two drives, he’s 8-9, 97 yards. The Chiefs are out of whack at this point, but from now on, the 49ers will sustain almost no offense. One reason is better Chiefs defense, but another is that Shanahan didn’t take advantage of his run game enough.

Anyway, at this point Mahomes goes through a sequence of awful throws. Every one is off target, at least a little bit, even the ones that are completed. This drive concludes with an off-target pass not getting caught by the receiver, bouncing off his hands, and then a great catch by Moore to get the interception. Hill would say he should have caught it. Perhaps. However, the throw was well behind him and it should not have been that difficult of a catch. I remember thinking that there wasn’t a reason not to lead Watkins on the throw, no reason for Watkins to sit down on the route, no obvious miscommunication. Just a bad throw, and Moore makes Mahomes pay.

At this point, there’s 12 minutes left in the game and 49ers are up by 10. This high win probability territory. The 49ers could have slammed the door here.

I didn’t like the play calling here. They start well, getting a nice run to Mostert and a pass to Kittle. That’s when I thought they’d rely on the run for a bit (as did Aikman). Running is one of their strengths, after all.

Mostert got 1 on a run. I am not watching the replay, but I seem to recall this was a basic run. Either way, the next play is another pass. I don’t mind them throwing to Kittle here, but I would have preferred a good misdirection run, maybe even another Deebo sweep.

For that matter, early in the game, the use Deebo as a decoy on a play and never come back to him as the primary. This despite Deebo getting essentially free on the first play. This is the point of the game where you can put a stake in their heart and that’s exactly the time to take advantage of the plays that you highlighted from the first half. Why they didn’t, I’ll never know.

Anyway, so the Chiefs get the ball back at their 17 with 9 minutes and things are dicey. Mahomes is OK at the start of this drive, but not great. He makes the good decision to scramble. He throws an off-target pass that Hill catches. Then he throws an awful pass to Hill that gets overturned because Hill trapped it. Really bad throw to a wide open receiver.

Now is when the magic happens, and it’s all because the 49ers have a coverage breakdown. Mahomes connects with Hill for 44 yards. This was an awful throw, I thought. Hill had to wait for it and had Mahomes hit him in stride it’s a TD. I’d have to see the All-22 to confirm, but I think he was two beats too late on the throw and only an awful coverage scheme left Hill so wide open he could sit and wait on the throw.

Sometimes you just need a spark.

This was it, and Mahomes was much better after that. He throws a seam route that Moore (the defender who caught the tip interception) butchers on the coverage. It’s clear pass interference. He impedes the receiver and never gets his head around, so he wasn’t playing the ball. Obvious call.

First and goal at the 1 and the Chiefs score easily. 20-17 Chiefs and I said on Facebook: “Is the wind in the Chiefs’ sails?”

Spoiler Alert: It was.

First play of the ensuing 49ers drive is a 5yard run by Mostert. Derrick Nnadi makes a real good play to get off the block and I think it’s overlooked. Mostert had a huge gap after Nnadi and if he breaks through he’s going to get 15+. That makes a huge difference in the timing of the game here.

Anyway, the next play is a ball batted down by Chris Jones, who suddenly came alive. If he doesn’t, Kittle has 15 and again we’re talking about stake in the heart kind of time. Also, Deebo was wide open in the flat on that play. This play worked really well, in other words, but only a great defensive play stopped it.

The next play wasn’t as good. It was a pass, which isn’t bad on 3rd and 5, but I’d have been looking for one of my speed guys, Kittle, Deebo, Mostert, or Breida. The last one in particular was a mistake by Shanahan. Breida wasn’t targeted a single time in the game, and he’s a really nice player with great hands and a lot of speed. I am positive that Shanahan could have schemed one of them open instead of a contested throw to a backup TE.

This is a drive of wasted opportunities by the 49ers and just enough by the Chiefs to force a punt.

Here’s another subtle moment in the game. I criticized Hardman for taking the opening kickoff from deep out of the endzone. However, here he makes a great decision to fair catch the punt. As the punt was coming down, I thought he might have a lane, but the 49ers coverage closed the gap almost as the ball got there. Had Hardman been too aggressive and tries to run, I think only bad things happen for the Chiefs.

Anyway, this Mahomes finally on his game. His throws are on and 2:26 later Williams catches his pass for the TD. This is the questionable TD where we’re not sure if Williams breaks the plane or not. I *think* Williams broke the plane but it was close. A number of others said they thought he hadn’t, but it was close.

The referee called it a TD on the field. It was too close to criticize a ref for making a decision on the field. He called it a TD. No replay gave anything close to something that showed the actual result. Slow it down all you want, and it’s still “I think.”

And so, replay came back, rightfully, “Call Stands.” No matter what the ref on the field called, replay wasn’t going to overturn it. It’s a big thing, because otherwise it’s 4th and goal at the 2-inch line. I think Reid goes for it, so probably scores anyway. It’s irrelevant, though, and the Chiefs now up 24-20.

This is where the stupidity at the end of the first half really costs the 49ers. If it’s 24-23, then the 49ers have 2:44 with all 3 time outs to get into FG range. There’s no desperation. Also, they don’t *have* to succeed the first try. If they go three and out, with 3 TOs and the best defense in the NFL, they can reasonably expect to have another opportunity with something like 1:45 and 1 TO left.

In other words, the Chiefs would have had an advantage, but not a great one. Needing a TD changes that equation significantly, especially the time part at the end.

The 49ers get to midfield with 1:56 left to play. They then throw 3 incomplete passes. At this point, the still have 3 TOs. It’s 4th and 10. I believe it’s the right call to go for it here, but I didn’t like the play call.

I said in my notes before this drive the Chiefs should throw the house at Garoppolo. Even if the 49ers manage a long TD, the Chiefs offense would have had time with 3 TOs of their own to get into FG range. They didn’t, except on this play.

And I think Shanahan should have expected that. The throw he called took too much time. Again, I haven’t seen the All-22 to see the coverage, but I think he should have gone with a five steps and throw immediately sort of play. A fade to Deebo. A seam to Kittle. A wheel to Mostert. One of those sorts of things. They’re quick, take almost no time off the clock, and have a good chance if the defense is aggressive there.

Instead, Garoppolo is sacked and the Chiefs get it at the 42.

There’s an interesting sequence here. I don’t think I was completely correct on my math but I still think Williams makes a mistake here, albeit an understandable one.

Play 1, 1:25 on the clock: Williams runs for 4, 49ers take their first TO.

Play 2, 1:20 on the clock, Williams runs 38 yards for a TD.

Now, there is 1:12 left on the clock here. I think he should have downed himself at the 1 or 2 yard line.

By scoring, he gave the 49ers 1:12 with 2 TOs and a not inconsequential chance of a TD with a 2point conversion, an onsides kick, and a FG attempt. It’s not likely, but there’s a chance.

Also note how different that would have been with 3 points at the end of the first half.

Now consider if he goes down on the 1. This forces the 49ers to take a TO, so already you’ve depleted the 49ers chances. Let’s look at the following sequence.

Play 1: Chiefs kneel. 49ers take their last TO. There’s about 1:10 on the clock.

Play 2: Chiefs kneel. 49ers have no TOs. 40 seconds run off the clock, leaving about 30 seconds.

Play 3: Chiefs kneel, game over.

Yes, the Chiefs defense makes a great interception and they’re barely able to run out the clock, but even that was harder than it could have been because the 49ers had one more TO.

Williams going down at the 1 ends the game, period. By scoring, he extended it. Frankly, he ends the game by going down in bounds anywhere after getting the first down. The math is that simple.

Anyway, the Chiefs win and Andy Reid did a fantastic job. He pushed the action and depended upon Mahomes to be great. Mahomes wasn’t, for most of the game, but I think we all knew that he’d get on a streak at some point.

Shanahan was awful. He’s a great coach, but this game doesn’t show it. He consistently overthought things. He’ll do better next time, I have no doubt. I’d guess Reid’s experience from his previous Super Bowl appearance helped him a ton.

Williams was a good player in this game, but not great, I thought. I say that not even criticizing him too much for the last TD. Few players aren’t going to score there. Too much excitement.

He does end up with 2 TDs and over 100 yards on the ground, and there’s a case to be made for him to be MVP. This is especially true since Mahomes didn’t have a great game.

There’s been once in Super Bowl history where a losing player won the MVP. That happened in Super Bowl V with Dallas’s Chuck Howley. I think it should have happened here with Nick Bosa.

No other player dominated the game like him. He had those 12 pressures and a strip sack. However, he also dominated Eric Fisher time and again on running plays. He made the Chiefs work for everything start to finish.

The scary part is that he was a rookie this year and he’ll only get better. I’d be shocked at this point if he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame career. The only thing that will stop it will be injuries, so knock on wood because he’s a joy to watch… playing against anyone other than your team.

Congratulations to the Chiefs. I said in the FB thread: “I’m really happy for Reid. I’m sad for my stepdaughter, a big 49ers fan. I’m sad for me, because this city is going to be insufferable all year.”

Well, go be insufferable, your team earned you the right.

OK, that’s way too many words on this. Time for me to go make dinner then start a short story in the 4HU.

 

 

Rob’s Ramblings: ChattaCon AAR

ChattaCon has come and gone for 2020. It was, as usual, a great time. I really enjoy the Chattanooga fan scene. It’s a bunch of smart, fun people and I’m glad I get to go there twice a year.

As usual, Lani gave me a nice busy schedule. Actually, it was brilliant this year because it was front-loaded, which I appreciate.

I’ll get to that in a moment, but one of the most important parts of cons these days is the Thursday before con networking. This time, I had a chance to sit down with Brian Cooksey and lay out some plans for getting the Shijuren RPG off the ground.

Side note: Brian will be a Special Guest next year at ChattaCon because of his game design skills. I’m honored he’s helping me out.

We spent a couple of hours agreeing upon overall goals, a general breakdown of responsibilities, and that sort of thing. I had given him some ideas I wanted to try and he gave me his opinion on them.

One thing I think is good about our partnership is that we have different perspectives. While I have a lot of gaming experience, it’s mostly in one tree, D&D/Pathfinder. Brian, on the other hand, knows a ton of game systems and he has a lot of different things to bring into the conversation.

Our basic philosophy is this: We want a game system that allows for a ton of flexibility and options in character design. I want players to play the character they want. At the same time, we want a game system that streamlines the process to minimize checking rules during the game because all the information a player needs is on his character sheet already.

I’ll expand on the game system plans as they get going. I’ll be posting process updates consistently both here and on the wiki when I get it updated.

Suffice to say I’m really excited as it starts to get off the ground. I’ve always wanted to be a part of an RPG and I think we can do some cool stuff here.

The actual convention started at 5pm on Friday with my Martin Koszta panel. As usual, people enjoyed it but I am more convinced now that I need to retire it for a few years. I’ll actually come back to it at some point, I’m sure, but I’ve presented it too much. What I really need to do is pick a new historical event, maybe run through bits and pieces of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or go through Old English poetry.

That was at 5 on Friday. Immediately after was a world-building on the fly panel by Brian Cooksey that was a lot of fun. He structured it with 4-5 things that had to be in it and 4-5 things that had to *not* be in it, then let us riff off the combinations. That’s a process I might just try for the next Shijuren series as I come up with different characters and storylines.

At 8pm was a similar panel, and had I been thinking, I would have pulled from Brian’s.

Of course, had I been thinking, I would have noticed I was the listed moderator and been prepared to direct things. We muddled out some things, but it needed more direction and audience involvement. It could have been great, but I didn’t come prepared. Next time, I’ll fix that.

And yes, I had a 9pm Friday panel discussing how much violence and sex should we include in fantasy and SF. My answer is it depends on the story I’m trying to write. I tend to action/adventure stuff, so there’s lots of violence. I can change how graphic that is up and down the dial, but it tends toward violent.

On the other hand, I’ve been incorporating more romantic and sexual themes in my stuff. The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms is a riff off Romeo and Juliet (actually the Finnsburh stuff, but same thing). As for how graphic my sexual content will be, it will depend on if it pushes the story. I don’t like either violence or sex that’s just put in just to have it.

Then was the LibertyCon party, and I hung out there until it closed. I bounced around for a bit, but I was tired and went to bed. A good day, all around, though really, really busy.

That business on Friday meant, however, that Saturday was fairly light. I had a panel at 1pm on weaving historical events and real things in speculative fiction.

I actually checked to see if I was the moderator and did a much better job at coming up with questions. I thought it went really well, though I will say having Terry Maggert as a panelist is fantastic. All you need to do is stick a quarter in him and he’ll create a ton of things to talk about.

I had my author signing/sales session from 4-5pm. It went really well, highlighted by a couple of regular readers showing up right away. They’re a joy to have as fans, smart, nice, and pleasant.

Then I spent much of the evening talking with Terry Maggert and Mel Todd about writing and processes. I learned a ton. Terry’s done well from writing and he’s definitely someone to pay attention to. Mel has studied things from a different tack, and she’s got quite a bit to teach me on the business side especially. It’s nice to have smart friends.

Then I went and hung out at parties and such-like things. One con regular hosts her own party, and I spent a goodly amount of time there. Then I went and watched the burlesque for a bit. Then I joined in on Kat’s birthday party.

I went to bed late, but it was worth it.

I was moving slowly on Sunday morning (shocking, I know), but I really enjoyed the panel on using Culture, Mythology, and Spirituality to fill out speculative fiction moderated by Amanda Makepeace.

Side note: Amanda is an amazing artist and will be Artist Guest of Honor at MidSouthCon opposite FantaSci and then ChattaCon 2021.

Anyway, I wondered where this panel might go, because it’s such a broad topic. In the end, what I think I got was a codification of something I already knew I did, but had never said aloud. I chose to use real world religions in Shijuren because I wanted to get the immediate evocative response from a Zeus or a Woden instead of a made-up deity who was some analogue. I use gods and goddesses from a bunch of cultures because I find them all fun and interesting.

Researching other cultures is one of the best parts of writing in Shijuren.

At that point, my responsibilities were done. I emptied my room, made my goodbyes, and was on the road by 11:30.

I thought about staying for some of the closing stuff, but after staying up late on Saturday and with the way the weather has been around KC of late, I decided I wanted to get on the road as quickly as I could.

At LibertyCon, I’ll be staying for the Dead Dog Party, and maybe even for a couple of days after. However, on this trip, it was time to be home. The trip went well, I didn’t even need a nap, and I made it home at 9ish.

As usual, today is sort of slow day, and I’m not doing much other than writing my AAR and puttering around on some detail work here and there. Nothing huge or stressful, nor anything I’ll beat myself up for not doing except the AAR, which really is best done today anyway when I’m still basking in a great weekend. All part of learning how to manage myself better.

Anyway, the short version. The trip went well. I achieved the goals I had in mind. I had fun.

I’ll be there in 2021.

Rob’s Ramblings: ChattaCon and Stuff

Greetings all

This week is ChattaCon. It’s one of my favorite cons because Lani Brooks always gives me plenty to do. This year is no different.

Here’s my schedule:

  • Friday at 5pm (Vision A Ballroom): Martin Koszta Using History Panel (This might be the last time for a while. I’ve done it quite a few times, so I’ll stop suggesting it until I miss doing it.)
  • Friday at 8pm (Vision B Ballroom): Iron-Storyteller. This looks like a lot of fun and I wonder if we may end up wanting to run long because we’ll come up with so much stuff. However…
  • Friday at 9pm (Wisdom Boardroom: Beyond G-Rating. How much violence and sex should we include in fantasy and SF.
  • Saturday at 1pm (Vision A Ballroom): Blurring the Lines. We’ll discuss how to interweave real events in spec fiction.
  • Saturday at 4pm (Ballroom Hall): I believe this will be my author signing period. Yes, I’ll have books with me.
  • Sunday at 10am (Vision A Ballroom): Culture, Mythology, and Spirituality. Studying how cultures help fill out speculative fiction and RPGs.
  • There is also a game creation panels that I might attend, given the Shijuren RPG. It’s Principles of RPG Design run at 3pm in Vision C.

It’s going to be a great time. I love it that she keeps me hopping.

One thing that might be weird is this will be the first con I attend after Neil’s passing. His death is still reverberating among Rush fans and I’m not the only one not really over it.

I always wear Rush T-shirts at con. There are always a bunch of Rush fans at SF/F cons, of course, and I’ve always enjoyed interacting with them.

This time will be different and I’m not sure how it’ll go.

Anyway, on to other things.

Congratulations to the Chiefs and the 49ers for reaching the Super Bowl. I’m in a hard place here as a Cowboys fan living in the KC area. On the one hand, it’s the 49ers, and I never like it when they win. On the other, it’s one of the stepdaughter’s teams and if the Chiefs win, KC fans are going to be insufferable until they next get knocked out of the playoffs. And that couldn’t be any earlier than December 2020.

I guess I’ll root for the Chiefs. Andy Reid is a guy to admire, and I’d be really happy for him to win a Super Bowl with a team other than the Eagles. Yes, I’m petty. But the Eagles fans deserve all that and more.

Anyway, we’ll have a Super Bowl party here. I generally have had one. Last year was the exception because of moving about. Hopefully, the stepdaughter can have the night off from work, but if not, we’ll make a mini version of her and sit her right in front of the TV.

Also exciting is the result of the Dragon 9/Crew Dragon test. It looks like we’re almost to the point of crewed missions for that platform.

I’ve long believed, and circumstances are proving me right, than private industry would be the real path to space. NASA has certain uses, but commercial ventures can do things NASA can’t, and do them at a much faster rate.

I would really like to see humanity have a solid and stable presence in space before I pass along the mortal coil. Dragon could make that happen.

Well, enough of all that. Back to writing in None Call Me Mother. Making progress.

Rob’s Ramblings: 40 Seconds to LOS

There are times and places we all remember. Where the impact is so powerful that we are irrevocably changed.

Friday afternoon, I had one of those moments. I was standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart idly flipping through Twitter while I waited. That’s where and when I found out Neil Peart had passed away.

I’ve tried to write this post ever since then. I’ve failed. What you’re reading isn’t correct. It doesn’t hold all that I need it to. I don’t know how to make it better, though I’m sure things will come to me.

However, I need to say something now, even if it’s not quite right.

****

I can’t remember a single earthshaking moment when Neil Peart became a shaping factor in my life, but I can credit the person who made it happen: Ted Shellhamer. We’d connected over sports and other shared things, but that year he got excited about a new record by Rush.

Moving Pictures had Tom Sawyer, which everyone remembers and which we loved too, but there was so much more. However, it was when Ted gave me stuff from A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, and Permanent Waves that I really started to love Rush almost as much as he did.

The title track to Hemispheres, with its blend of science fiction and Greek mythology combined with intricately woven lyrics that wrapped back around themselves blew me away. Natural Science did the same thing. And like so many others Closer to the Heart got to me.

It seeped into me, teaching me slowly and thoroughly. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve listened to a Rush album, I always seem to learn something new. It is comforting to know I still have lessons to learn from Neil even though he’s gone.

I bought all the cassettes. Exit… Stage Left was my favorite because I got to hear Tom Sawyer and the Trees and The Spirit of the Radio all on one tape! Plus 9 other great songs. What could be better?

I’ll tell you what could be better: Signals followed by Grace Under Pressure followed by Hold Your Fire followed by Presto and so on. Best yet are the three albums of Rush 2.0, Vapor Trails, Snakes and Arrows, and Clockwork Angels.

19 studio albums all told. 19 different styles. 19 different kinds of awesome. 19 wonderful collections we are lucky to have.

****

It’s hard to describe how awesome it was to me that this music was so incredibly powerful and talked about things that fascinated me. On the one hand I could bang my head to it as much as anything else out there, but on the other hand it always made me think. Not just about mythology and science fiction, but poetry and history and philosophy and all sorts of things that I kept getting told were so utterly uncool yet I still desperately craved.

And still do, for that matter, even more than ever.

School was an awful place for me, as it was for so many. I had some good and great teachers. I had some not.

One administrator dealt fairly with me, Roel Quintanilla. He was it.  Other than that, I was fair game to all the other students because they knew I was the one who’d get in trouble, even if I wasn’t the source of the problem. I was bigger than many, frustrated, angry, and too damn intelligent to fit in those round holes they tried to fit me into. I will never forgive Katie McHenry, by the way, for explicitly telling me it was OK for girls to punch me. That it was my fault for saying anything that prompted them to punch me.  It’s been nearly 40 years for some of these things, yet I am still shaking in rage at the things she and other administrators let happen to me.

I never snapped, though. Not completely, at least. I did go off a few times, which at least had the benefit of making other students a bit wary about me.

I didn’t snap because I have great parents.

I also had Neil’s lyrics telling me that it was OK to be different.

The easy song to point to is Subdivisions of course, with its line “conform or be cast out.” But Witch Hunt was there too, showing me I was merely the target of humanity’s mob mentality. The Trees told me that I could conform, but only if I wished to give up way too much. 2112 told me that those damned administrators didn’t really know anything.

I could be different and yet the magic of life could still be within my grasp!

****

My life hasn’t really gone to plan. I was a good IT pro, and in some ways I regret leaving that line of work. It’s certainly easier than writing and it pays better.  But I’ve always struggled within that round hole of a 40-hour work week.

I thought at one time that academia would be the place for me. I didn’t have the rigid schedule chafing at me year after year and I could push my brain into ever cooler things.

But the academic world is worse than high school ever was. “Conform or be cast out” isn’t just a society thing there, it’s the professional motto.

I’m so glad I didn’t get my Ph.D. I’m proud of my research and what would have been my dissertation. I’m pleased with the skills I learned. I clearly enjoyed the publish or perish part of it all. I am pleased that my academic career mined out the useful parts of that world while I remained Rob.

In 2012, the week my second wife left me and right about when I realized I’d also broken up with academia, Rush released Clockwork Angels.

It’s a tour-de-force album. It has all the energy and passion of Moving Pictures, 2112, and Permanent Waves, but with all the skill and growth of their entire career. It’s the best album ever made. Not just by Rush, but ever.

Thank goodness for that album.

Kate had seemed like a miracle to me. Beautiful and smart and many wonderful things, but we didn’t fit as much as we thought. We had a great wedding (I entered that day to Rush’s Malignant Narcissism), but the marriage… well… we had the best wedding ever.

The chorus of The Wreckers on Clockwork Angels is:

All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Because sometimes the target is you

And there it was, Rush saving me again. She was too good to be true, and that just happens. What’s important is where we go from here.

So I did what Neil had done. I hit the road. In my case, it wasn’t a motorcycle or a bike, it was the idiotic whimsy of walking the Offa’s Dyke trail in Wales. I packed up my phantoms, I shouldered my invisible load, and I haunted a wilderness road. I was a Ghost Walker.

I’m proud to be Kate’s friend now and I’m so glad we met. I listen to Malignant Narcissism happily remembering the joys of our time together and the lessons I’ve learned. The same is true of Holly, my first wife (Vapor Trails was there after she and I split, by the way). I never married Maerwynn, again because I screwed up, but I can’t imagine her not being in my life.

Headlong Flight on Clockwork Angels says what I feel about my marriages, my other sweeties along the way like Maerwynn, and all the other things which didn’t turn out like I expected:

All the treasures, the gold and glory
It didn’t always feel that way
I don’t regret it – I’ll never forget it
I wouldn’t trade tomorrow for today

Some days were dark
I wish that I could live it all again
Some nights were bright
I wish that I could live it all again

****

I wasn’t really salvaged after breaking up with Kate and academia until mom pushed me into writing, but it felt like a squarish hole when she suggested it. I’ve grown since then and I realized some time ago that’s partly because Neil’s lyrics made me think about writing all along.

My one regret of my writing career is that I started at 46. I wish I’d at least started writing on the side when Neil was first making me think about weaving words in intricate and lovely patterns.

I’ve been blessed with wonderful parents. I’ve had a lot of wonderful other people in my life along the way, including Holly, Kate, and Maerwynn. I never met Neil and yet, outside of my parents and my significant others, I would hard pressed to name another single person who mattered most in my life than Neil.

I don’t know where I would have been had Rush not been there for me. Neil’s lyrics have always held back the worst of whatever depresses me. Often enough I haven’t enjoyed my thoughts about myself, but Neil convinced me I had to look at them as honestly as I could. I had to learn to keep on riding North and East and circling South and West. Or, as I say when talking about writing, keep on plugging away.

I’m here and better than ever and that would never have happened if Neil hadn’t made me think.

****

How does one pay that back? I never had a great answer.

I always hoped one day I’d run into Neil at a random restaurant on the road. I wouldn’t have talked to him, but I would have slid my card over to the waitress in a heartbeat and bought dinner for him and all his guests, whatever the price. Giving out food and drink is my way of saying thanks, as many who’ve camped near me at SCA events have probably figured out.

It was the best compromise I could dream of. In my dream I wouldn’t say a word to him. I wouldn’t enter within his Limelight, so to speak, but I’d have said thanks in the truest way I know how. Especially since any words that ever said to him would have bothered and embarrassed him. Simply buying his dinner or lunch would have bothered him more than I’m really comfortable with, in all actuality, but it was the only compromise I could think of.

****

I sit here in the best time of my Headlong Flight. I have the right person in my life. I am doing the thing I should have been doing all along. I’m happier with myself as a person than I have ever been.

I know dark days will come, but I also know Neil will be there helping me push through them. Bright nights will also come and Neil will be there helping my celebrate them.

I tried to write this without using too many of Neil’s lyrics. It’s hard because it’s those lyrics that mattered the most to me. It’s also hard because his language patterns flow into my hands when I’m writing. Believe me, I could have written this entire thing with powerful lyrics in every paragraph.

But I needed this to be at least partially from me. It’s what Neil would expect.

I’m going to conclude this with words from a Rush song which he didn’t write. These are words exchanged between Ground Control and the Columbia during the first space shuttle launch, which Rush immortalized in Countdown.

“Columbia, Houston, we have 40 seconds to LOS
you’re looking good burning over the hill, we will see you in Madrid.”

“And we enjoyed the music, Bob, thank you.”

“We enjoyed it, just wanted to share some with you.”

Neil shared his music and writing with us and now we’ve lost his signal. We enjoyed it, Neil, and we thank you.

I don’t know if there’s a Madrid over the hill, but if there is, I’m going to buy Neil that dinner.

Rob’s Ramblings: ShadowCon 2020 AAR

Rob’s Note: I’m starting a Monday column for whatever I want to write about. This will include reviews, sports, other interests, and, obviously, AARs.

The first convention of 2020 is in the books! ShadowCon 2020 was fantastic. I had a great time, sold books, and learned a ton.

ShadowCon is a small Memphis convention run by an SCA household name Shadow Legion. Obviously, that means there is a huge SCA presence at the con. It’s not just the SCA, though, as Memphis has an active SF/F creator community.

In the past, I have actively tried to avoid having a dealer’s table *and* sitting on panels. However, a dealer’s table opened up at the last moment and I decided to pounce on it.

The reason to avoid doing both remained, but this would be my first con in a while and I thought I’d have the adrenaline to push me through the challenge of back-to-back 12+ hour days. Also, since ShadowCon is only on Friday and Saturday, I didn’t have to worry about doing too much on Sunday.

Whether I thought things through well or not, this turned out to be an excellent decision. I was, in fact, busy. I did, in fact, get exhausted. However, I also sold a bunch of books I would not have otherwise.

I did three panels as well. One was a panel on adding mystery elements to SF/F. This is the first time doing that panel. I don’t think I organized it well, but that happens the first time one does a panel. I like the core of the idea and I’ll do it again. Also, it’s a panel that would work better, I think, with more people than me on it. I was up against Opening Ceremonies, so many of the other authors were there instead. Nevertheless, it was a solid panel, with 5 people who got at least a little something out of it.

I also did my Martin Koszta panel again. Unfortunately, this was at 8pm on Saturday and I only got two people there. Worse, in one way, they were both experienced writers and that panel is aimed more at people starting to dabble in history as an inspiration. It may not have been terribly effective, but the story is so fun we all enjoyed it.

My favorite panel discussed specific methods one can use when you get stuck. I was joined by a couple of other writers and we had a decent sized audience. It went really well, and I think I’ll add that one to my list as well.

ShadowCon advertises itself as a “relaxacon,” which means the social aspects after the official events are important. Friday night I hung out and chatted until about midnight.

Saturday night, however, I was up and chatting until about 4am. Allan Gilbreath is a hoot! He’s also very smart. He and Robert Allsup talked about some of the specifics of writing screenplays, especially those for TV. Much to think about, and I do want to try my hand at that.

They also gave me an idea for my Mag Reviews, which I think I’ll play around with.

One of the anticipated highlights was spending time with Bill Webb. He’s in a couple of the Phases of Mars anthologies and I hadn’t really met him before. He’s a really sharp guy and I’m really glad I aimed to spend time with him. I suspect we’ll work together in the future.

Last year at ShadowCon I felt a little out of the loop. This isn’t really surprising as I often struggle the first time at a con to know where I fit in. It’s also not surprising, then, that the second time I’m at a con I’m much more aware of things, more confident, and therefore more productive.

I never stop learning these things, of course, but I realize I should factor this in my calculations more than I do. I shouldn’t necessarily discount a con where the first time doesn’t click a ton. I need to pay attention to why it doesn’t click, because if it’s just that I was feeling a bit out of the water it might be a great con, I just need to go a few times.

ShadowCon has now locked itself into my normal rotation because of this year. I’ll be doing more cons with a dealer’s table, even if no one else is there. It’s hard work. I just need to consider how many panels and how much other stuff is going on at the same time.

Thanks to Aubrey Stephens for handling the panels and Gunder Johanssen for handling the dealer’s room. Thanks to Bill Webb for introducing me into the Memphis creator scene.

And thanks to all who bought books, chatted with me, and helped me a have a great time.

I’ll be back next year.