A Christmas Gift for You from Me

Macy's Window Display

One of my annual Holiday traditions is adding to an already unwieldy collection of Christmas music. And, when you end up with a whole bunch of Christmas songs sitting on your computer, you’re kinda forced to do something with them. So here’s a 2014 Christmas mix, with the title straight stolen from the best actual Christmas album ever.

This one’s of the non-traditional variety, featuring songs compiled over the last, I don’t know, five years. Maybe I’ll put together a more traditional companion disc as well.

1. “It’s Christmas Time” – Yo La Tengo

A reminder near the end of the year that I probably should’ve listened to more Yo La Tengo during the year.

2. “Christmas Reindeer” – The Knife

Let’s just dispense with the weird early. This is a very easy song to hate. I happen to like it.

3. “White Havoc” – Deer Tick

Love all things Deer Tick around here. This is the first of two tracks on this mix from the latest Converse collection.

4. “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” – The Decemberists

The Decemberists covering just about the saddest thing you could ever imagine, originally written by John Denver. It’s quite the juxtaposition.

5. “In the Cold, Cold Night” – Tracey Thorn

Not a Christmas song, but it works just as well.

6. “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” – Julian Casablancas

Yes, that’s the lead singer from the Strokes and yes this is a song from an SNL skit.

7. “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” – Neko Case

Also not a Christmas song per se, but it is Neko Case covering Tom Waits and I’m always in on that.

8. “On Christmas” – Dum Dum Girls

Track two from that Converse compilation. A little synth-pop under your tree.

9. “Holiday Road” – Matt Pond PA

Vacation. That is all.

10. “Please Come Home for Christmas” – My Morning Jacket

Jim James’ voice is well-suited for this classic.

11. “Christmas Cake” – Rilo Kiley

Reminds me to go listen to The Execution of All Things again, which, random fact, I once used as a title for a Nebraska football story about a Huskers’ press conference.

12. “Christmas Tree on Fire” – Holly Golightly

Been listening to this one for ages and it’s become something of a household favorite.

13. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” – Slow Moving Millie

A Smiths cover that might seem like a pretty crappy Christmas message, but you have to see the context in which it was presented. (Seriously, you have to.) These “adverts” from British retailer John Lewis are quite the thing over there it appears. Here’s this year’s, which people also seem to love. (Music in that one’s “Real Love” by Tom Odell.)

14. “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” – Nick Lowe

Lowe’s holiday album Quality Street was released last year and I wish I could listen to it every day. It’s not good holiday music, but good music, period. This is a Wizzard cover, I believe, and, while I like the version below better, you definitely want to check out the original just for spectacle of it.

15. “Last Christmas” – The xx

Plenty of Wham! covers out there, but this is the best one. Take that, Jimmy Eat World.

16. “2,000 Miles” – Mark Kozelek

Been a minute since I’d listened to any Kozelek, but always liked him and this is a great song by the Pretenders.

Happy Holidays.


A Letter to Frontier Regarding Its New Bag Fee

Dear Frontier Airlines:

It’s July 21, 2014 and I’m writing this aboard one of your flights from Trenton to Nashville. The flight itself is quite pleasant, as most of my flights on Frontier have been. Learning of your new bag fee structure, put into effect in April, by being forced to pay to bring my carry-on on board was not so pleasant. Not when you learn of it an hour before your flight.

Let me explain why, but before I do I will acknowledge that the right to charge such a fee was written into the Terms and Conditions that I, like most people, agreed to at a third-party site without fully investigating. I accept responsibility for that. I’m quite grateful that your new bag fee isn’t $5,000. Then I would’ve had a decision to make, but at $35 — or $50 at the gate if you should somehow escape through security and be told right before you board, after you stuffed your computer bag inside your carry-on of course, that your bag is too big — it’s just enough to be annoying. But what choice did I have? Throw my bag and belongings in the trash? Not take the flight? Just pay the money?

Like all of the customers in line at the customer service gate this morning who were just learning about this new policy, I choose to pay, but not happily. Here are a few reasons I find this problematic:

1. I understand the new bag policy. I really do. It’s smart, but that doesn’t make it reasonable for people who booked via a third-party site, which made no effort to explain that those charges would be coming. Some might call that extortion. I just call it a poor way to serve your customers. It’s a customer service problem that could’ve easily been avoided. And, though I didn’t need to be, I’ve already been told via Twitter, in essence, “hey, what those other sites do isn’t our problem,” so please skip that part. I knew that the moment I realized I was paying $35 for my bag whether I wanted to or not.

2. The new fee came as such a shock because I didn’t have to pay any additional money for my bags on my outgoing flight from Nashville four days prior. Did I just slip through the cracks there? Why wasn’t I charged? Southern hospitality? Please explain the discrepancy, not because it would’ve made things any better, but because I’m genuinely curious.

3. Please also explain why you would possibly put this sort of burden on your customer service representatives? Seems inefficient and exhausting for everyone involved. After expressing my shock to the customer service rep in Trenton, I finally ponied up for the bag that was free four days earlier — again, what choice did I have? — and then apologized to that rep, explaining that I wasn’t angry with her, just how this policy was being communicated — or not communicated, actually — to the customers. She then said, “that’s how they get you, cheap air fare, but charge for the bags.” We finally agreed on something and it was how much worse this process was making both of our days.

4. Looked back at my Travelocity receipt for this flight and it had the boilerplate fine print reading “Price does not include baggage fees or other fees charged directly by the airline.” I suppose that covers both of you — the booking site and the airline — but I’m not sure why an airline would willingly agree to put their customers and their own customer service reps in such an unsavory situation of learning/explaining why their flight is suddenly $40 to 100 more expensive than first thought. You CAN do this of course, but SHOULD you? I would’ve happily paid the bag fees in advance, saving myself $15 per bag per leg of the trip if I’d known those fees existed. I didn’t and because I didn’t I had to pay even more. Pretty tricky, that.

5. As previously mentioned, I get the strategy here: Open up an additional source of revenue at a time when all airlines are looking for the same while also encouraging people to book through your own site. I’m sure that the fact that your flights appear cheaper and more competitive on third-party travel sites is just a happy coincidence. And they do — it works! — because those sites are now showing a price that’s $40 to $100 less than the actual out-of-pocket cost for a round trip. Some people learn about that at the airport. The bag fee I had to pay here is of relatively little concern — I paid it and still had a reasonably priced trip — but the principle still matters. Or it does to me. I’m sure — or rather I really really hope — that at some point when this new bag fee structure was being discussed that someone at Frontier, somewhere along the way, stepped up and said “it really seems like we’re exploiting a loophole here for people who book somewhere other than our own site” I would feel better if that were the case, though it’s a temporary joy as that concern was obviously discarded if it ever existed.

I can’t imagine that my complaint is unique, so here’s a strategy for you: Instead of springing these new bag charges on people when they show up at the airport, how about waiving it the first time someone encounters it? Let your employees play the good guy instead of the heavy by saying, “normally that bag would cost you $35, but if you book via FlyFrontier.com you can save $10 each way and today will let it on for free.” Give the customers who have already paid the fee via your own website a free bag voucher once so it’s fair for everyone. Either way, I’d be a lot more likely to use Frontier again. Customer education always costs something. Does that not achieve the long-term goals behind the fees? Is it a reasonable way to educate customers about them?

That’s for you to decide, but please know that my fee for generating customer service solutions, whether acted upon or not, is $35. You agree to pay that fee by reading to the end of this sentence.

Thanks for your time,


Playing with Pythagorean Wins

I’m sort of falling in love with football’s Pythagorean Wins Theorem.

Before we get into that data, there are two questions worth answering quickly:

1) How accurate are Pythagorean Wins in college football? – This concept works very well in the NFL but there’s some debate, or at least there was a few years back based on Google searches, over how well it applies to the college game. Based on my numbers, the football formula predicted win totals within one game of the actual win totals nearly two-thirds (63.07%) of the time between 2007 and 2012. The formula projected 35.96% of the teams within a half game of the actual win totals over the same span. It’s reasonably accurate.

2) How predictive is it? – Pythagorean Wins does a pretty good job of identifying teams that drastically over or underperformed. Over the last five seasons, teams that were +/- 1.5 or more wins typically played to their actual form the next season, particularly the underperforming teams. Between 2007 and 2012, 64.8% of teams that were 1.5 games or more below their expected win total improved their win total the next season, while just 14.8% got worse. On the other end of the spectrum, teams that were 1.5 games or more above their expected win total saw their win total decline 62.2% of the time the following season, while 31.1% improved.

Read the entire thing over at HailVarsity.com.

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Big Ten Media Days

Read all of my stories from Big Ten media days here.

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A Cap Collection: 1986-99


I’m enjoying the Medium.com format so far. It’s got the cleanest writing interface I’ve ever used — the em-dashes look like em-dashes! — and the community there is quite active when it comes to commenting and collaboration.

I wrote my second thing over there and it’s on a project I’ve been thinking about for a while: documenting my childhood baseball cap collection.

You can see the full collection over on my Flickr page, and read the story, “The Sad and Rapid Decline of the Ball Cap,” at Medium.

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I Only Want to Read Reviews Written by Lou Reed


…Eventually I left, went to college, moved to the East Coast for grad school. I went to the world I’d been reading about and the reading became less vital. Read music reviews—or anything for that matter—long enough and you’ll start to notice the patterns, the same turns of phrase, the common syntax, the shortcuts taken to meet expectations of how a music review should read.

Once you notice these things, there’s no forgetting. Every album review started to sound the same. Reading them became unbearable. Despite the carefully wrangled and wrought efforts of reviewers trying to describe a sound—“gone are the cheap garage guitars of Band X’s debut album, traded in for a synthesizer and a Swollen Pickle resulting in a sweaty stew of New Gaze/Shoe Wave anthems”—the discussion of music didn’t resemble the experience of listening to music at all.

Until Lou Reed decided to write about Yeezus. Allow me to be the 10,000th person in the past two days to tell you to go read it.

Read the rest at Medium.com.

(Image via yeezygraffiti.com)

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What do champions have in common?

Stretching the limits of my statistical prowess here, but I decided to use standard deviation to examine what modern day national champions in college football have in common. A short excerpt below:

If we were to write out those results in plain English, the profile of a national champion over the past six years would read something like this: The last six national champions have consistently ran the ball well (rushing YPG and YPC), pressured the quarterback (sacks/g), stopped the run (rushing YPG and YPC allowed), scored enough points to rank in the top 25 (PPG) because they get to the red zone frequently (red zone attempts) and convert those attempts (red zone scoring percentage), had a merely adequate passing game (passing YPG), and got off the field on third down (opponent third down conversion percentage).

You can read the whole thing at HailVarsity.com.

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Nori, 10 months


This is my niece and this photo makes me happy.

(Photo via her mom.)