Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HARDWARE: The New/Updated Computer Part 1

This was actually supposed to be published Christmas Day as a sort of gift to the two or three readers who do read this blog. Like a lot of other things lately, I didn't do it right. So this is a two-post day at this blog and will serve as a parting gift for 2008. I am going to be back in 2009. I finally quit the insane attempt to have a major re-write done in six months of my main (2 million lines plus) application and now am targeting a more reasonable late winter target date. That, hopefully, takes the pressure off and lets me rant and rave here a little bit.

Naturally, this entry will be a little bit long, so I have broken it up into two parts. The first part is the Hardware entry you are reading now. What follows a little (or a lot) lower is the huge software part of what goes into setting up a good Windows system on a minimum of dollars. In fact, I'm only going to recommend a pair of for-pay programs!

Before going down the hardware path of your choosing, make sure you download the latest versions of the software listed in the software section and have them available on disks, drives or memory sticks to install on your new/updated system. Do that now, while you are thinking about it. Then come back here.

Done? Now onto this entry, which is, sort of, all about the hardware.

IF you are simply upgrading your system or doing a spring/fall overhaul, you should absolutely start the process by doing two things. BACK UP YOUR SYSTEM! And then, back up your drivers. And if you have any doubts, do it again, with different kinds of software or storage medium. I cannot emphasize just how important backups are for the inevitable little disasters that changing hardware seems to entail. I've been down to my fourth level of backup twice this year. Paranoia is your friend.

On the other hand, you MIGHT be buying an all new computer. You'll still need those backups to move data over from the old system, so even new hardware doesn't offer you avoidance of the need for a backup.

IF you buy a new system, it's likely that it will come with some flavour of Vista. There ARE versions of Vista Pro that are not horrible on name-brand equipment that Vista has been specifically attuned to. Any version of Home Vista is bad. Any non-brand name software will likely be a nightmare of mismatched drivers. And Vista is just generally a gigantic pain in the posterior to run on the best of its days. And today, tomorrow and any date in the near future qualifies as not being one of those days. Get your hands on a copy of XP Professional. Smilin' Steve Ballmer and the profit-happy folks at Microsoft will happily sell you a copy of XP along with that copy of Vista (Fully one-third of all new Vista purchases are accompanied by a copy of XP, to 'upgrade' the system back to XP. Steve's smiles are all about soaking the customer for twice the operating system price to get one workable system). Otherwise, finding a copy of XP might be a tad difficult. Have an expert friend do the looking, if you don't have a legal copy lying around.

Now here's the extra trick that my following free software suggestions will allow you to indulge in. Unless you know what you are doing, get that same local expert friend to set up Windows for you, as per instructions you'll provide from what's detailed below. (Expert friends can be plied with liquor, food or even a smile to do it cheaper for you than The Geek Squad or somesuch organization).

Buy as much system as you can, either as a new purchase or when upgrading. Get two gigs of memory, preferably three. Best bang for your hardware buck you can buy. Hard drives ceased being small years ago. You are talking about 500 gigs to 640 gigs being somewhat standard. A terabyte (megs, gigs, .... tees?) is certainly within the realm of reason. What you are going to do with the machine dictates quality of video and sound. Games players will max out there, business people needing a glorified typewriter and web-browser can spare the change. Get a good 20+ inch LCD monitor. Keyboard and mouse/trackball are personal preference items. Get a rewriteable DVD drive of some quality. Get a router to connect to the internet through the cable modem or (shudder) telephone modem. It's a great layer of protection and lets you hook in your other computers. And lastly, for a hundred bucks you can get a 500-gig external hard drive for backing up. And don't forget 20 bucks or so to get a thumbdrive aka memory stick. They are the new floppies.

Patrick makes my computers and always gives me the box the motherboard came in as a one-stop repository of everything needed to actually set up the computer. There's a few extra left-over cables and assorted nuts and screws. Plenty of manuals. AND EVERY DISK POSSIBLY CONNECTED to the computer. At least a copy of. And this box does NOT get stored down in the pantry in that space around the corner from where the drawer opens up. The place bits and pieces of Jimmy Hoffa might be buried in because nobody ever, ever looks in there. No, the box has to have as prominent position in your computer 'office' as say the ashes of a loved one in some ugly urn does. When needed, it's needed bad. You might not get a motherboard box to serve the purpose, but you'll have to find an alternative. The keyboard box, long and awkward as all get out, can serve in a pinch. But there HAS to be a box of solutions handy.

When starting up a system, I set it up so that the Windows partition remains as free of installed programs as I can make it. I don't succeed completely, but it's a work in progress. Windows gets installed on C: and the size of the partition is obviously dependent on the size of your local hard drive. For me, storage ceased to be a real determining factor a few years back. So, assuming size is no object, alot between 35 and 50 Gigs for C:. The rest goes into logical drive D:. (There are reasons for making more than one partition in the 'all the rest' area, but you'll know if you need to do that better than I.

The idea is then to subsequently install everything into \APPS residing on Drive D:. That means choosing custom in every install and choosing to change the default install to D:\APPS\WHATEVER. There will be, however, times where you get no say. It's rude and crude, but true. Some programmers think they know better. (By the way, all of my commercial apps get their own install folders ON drive C:, but that only goes to show you, you should beware over-bearing programmers and their install routines!)

Why do I set up this multi-partition scheme during the install phase? C: drives tend to get mulched in a variety of ways. Sometimes, a key file is over top of a bad spot on the hard drive. Sometimes, files get deleted accidentally. And sometimes nasty software turns the computer unbootable. By having a small, easily backed up partition, you WILL make backups. And solving the issues outlined earlier in this paragraph, restoring a backup makes all kinds of hand-wringing attempts to recover from disaster a minor inconvenience. Plus, you don't have to re-install all of your programs and reset their settings. I can back up C: on my computer inside of 20 minutes. Restore is just as quick. And I sleep easily at night.

Need more? By controlling where programs are installed, you deny bad virus writers automatic access to your software to infect. Not that you want to get a virus, but if a new one is out and about and lands on your drive, it's going to get lonely looking for stuff on C: to infect. If you let your temp folders run amok, it's nice having ALL of that empty space on C: to fill. Nothing like trying to write a DVD and then finding out you don't have the space for the temp files it needs to create the disk image. Mind you, you WILL be doing something about those temp files. For that, see the software entry on Crap Cleaner.

Lastly, if there is a lot of crapware installed on your system, spend a few minutes UNINSTALLING most of it. Especially the short trial anti-virus that comes with most systems. Only now are you ready for the install process to actually start.

SOFTWARE: The New/Updated Computer Part 2

There is an order to my madness. Each of the steps I follow below helps build towards the system I want to use. I try to time the steps to provide security as I need it, but functionality is the mantra all the way

The first thing I do is install a better, smarter file manager than Windows Explorer. My preference continues to be the kissin' cousins Powerdesk and ExplorerPlus. Currently, I prefer the ExplorerPlus incarnation of the version 6.x of each product. You MIGHT be able to buy it at FindMysoft, but the last publisher of the program I am aware of, Novotix, no longer deals with the program. PowerDesk, however is out with a version 7 and it's the only one that will work comfortably with Vista, if you should be so incredibly unfortunate as to have to work with that operating system. The problem with either of Powerdesk or ExplorerPlus is that they cost money. If you are looking for a free alternative, I recommend Ultra Explorer. In addition to the more refined window interface that the listed alternatives possess, I also recommend adding Q-Dir, which looks like an old-fashioned DOS file manager. It's lean and quick and if you are going to be mostly moving files about, rather than looking and working with them, than Q-Dir does its job very well. Finally, I add 7-Zip to make sure all my programs, even Windows Explorer, are well-equipped to handle most of the compressed files they might run across. It's so much easier to use than perpetually answering that WinZip nag screen (hint, hint).

A great little tweak out there is to list all drives with their letters first. Trust me, as you accumulate local, logical, network and USB drives, having those letters first is a godsend. Here's a reg file you can save and then merge with your registry to acheive the letteer-first appearance. By the way, this, and many others tweaks, can be found at:

Next up, you have to protect yourself against the incipient creeps that stalk the internet and might have infected files on your system. Ergo, we install the ZoneAlarm firewall, Avast! anti-virus, Crap Cleaner and then Spyware Blaster and Spybot-Search and Destroy to form the basis of our shield. Yes, Vista has things in it that does part of the same jobs as these programs. No, Vista's protection is not an answer, being awkward to use and too tempting to turn off to remake the user experience bearable. ZoneAlarm in its version 8 has gotten around most of the issues that forced me to abandon it recently. Avast has succeeded AVG by staying within itself and remaining an anti-virus program rather than a do-it-all wannabe. Crap Cleaner cleans out the garbage and regular running against the registry will reduce bloat and slowing down. And the latter two programs, when combined, actually do a fairly good job of preventing the worst and most persistent of the scumware. NOTE: All of these programs are free for home use, as will be most of the rest of the utilities described below. And no, they are NOT as good as the best of the commercial utilities. But they will do 97 per cent of what you need them to do.

By the way, now that you have active on-going protection installed, make sure none of Windows' native versions are getting in the way. Deactivate them through Control Panel. After that, schedule a weekly run through the programs to check the computer for something that might have gotten through before the latest updates.

I then install pdfRedirect and make that PDF print-to-file printer my default printer. The reason I do this is simple. Occasionally, I get tired and hit the print button in some program that just starts shooting out paper like I'm made of money. It's a lot easier to occasionally have to change the target printer, than run out of paper. Murphy's Law means you'd run out of paper on Sunday, with a report due first thing Monday. This is a fact. And, since we need a PDF reader, I install Foxit Reader, which is leaner and quicker than the defacto standard, Adobe Reader. Adobe's made good strides with v9 of their free reader and it wouldn't hurt to install both. But make Foxit your default reader.

Next, I install Gadwin PrintScreen, which controls saving areas of the screen to the clipboard, a file or the printer (or all three at the same time!). Lately, I have been adding FastStone Capture 5.3 (later versions are NOT free for home use. Googling the file will take you to a place like Software Informer that will let you download the last free version.), in order to do some modification of the screen captures. I set Gadwin to use the PrintScreen key, FastStone to use Ctrl-PrintScreen. That should be easy to remember.

I follow up the print screen programs with two more items for the systray in the lower right. I want to know what the temperature of my computer is, to better anticipate problems like a fan stopping, stopping my computer. By installing SpeedFan, I can monitor the regular temperature of the computer, even if I'm sitting a few feet away. If you notice the temperature has zoomed 10-15 degrees since you started up, you don't have to wait for inconsistent results to start occurring on your computer. You will KNOW something is up that requires immediate attention. Usually, it's a failed fan. Trust me on this one, it's better to be informed than deal after the fact. I also take this moment to install TClockEx that puts a date, calendar AND the time down in my clock area. Saves having to have some space and resources-hogging widget on my desktop to tell me the date and time. I used to include the memory used counter in TClockEx, but having 4 gigs of the stuff in my computer now sort of makes that number irrelevant. By the way, the string I use for TClockEx in the settings dialog is " ddd d MMM yy '<=>' h:mm:ss tt ". Note the leading and trailing spaces.

Not being a hardware tech, I find the easiest way to get a decent set of info about the innards of the computer is to run BGinfo from the Systernals Suite of programs. This creates a desktop picture that has all the info I usually need quickly, when talking to Patrick, my hardware guy, over the phone. I then use Gadwin print Screen to save the information to a picture file. Easy! Setting up BGInfo to run every time you start your computer and update your desktop is quite easy. NOTE: I use plain backgrounds, which save on resources and make reading icon titles REAL, REAL, REALLY EASY! Those of you who insist on ornate picture backgrounds and go blind hunting for the shortcut they need on the desktop, can use BGInfo as the excuse to stop the madness!!

TweakUI XP is the last of these free utilities that good guys from the Microsoft employee pool donated to the public through its PowerToys program. Going through the settings in TweakUI lets you set a fair bit of stuff that you'd be required to hunt and change in a dozen places otherwise. Not the least of which is auto logon, if you are going to be the only user of the computer you are on, and don't fear housemates dabbling on your computer in your absence.

We're getting down to the finer details of the install. The Same Systernals Suite also boasts Process Explorer, AutoRuns and Rootkit Revealer. All get added to my desktop for those times when you have to look deeper at what's going on behind the scenes of your computer. I pair AutoRuns with the easier-to-use Startup Control Panel by Mike Lin. The internal tools are almost completed with the hard-to-find TaskMan+ (Google it. I found a downloadable version are Wareseeker), a replacement with slightly better petigree than Microsoft's Task Manager. Mind you, if you think Task Manager will kill all the recalcitrant programs, you are wrong. So, make sure you add Unlocker, which saves opening and closing your file manager to delete the occasionally locked file.

, from the greatest name of any website ever ( is a utility that eliminates the archaic CapsLock key from causing havoc. I know some data entry people keep CapsLock turned on, all the time. I'm doing my best to have them all fired. Data and text is hard to READ WHEN EVERYTHING IS IN CAPS. THAT'S THE TRUTH!!! Getting rid of the Capslock key would be one of the signs computers are becoming more useable again.

Stickies is a computerized on-screen version of 3M notes. And by on-screen, I mean pixels, NOT gummy-residue leaving real life stickies. Once you get used to using them, you'll save a bundle not buying bundles of the real-life Stick-it Notes. You can find more organized, better programs than Stickies, but it's a great free starting point. Of course, if a little text editing and saving is really in order, there's no reason not to get a better notepad to do the work. Current preferred superior? MetaPad.

So, we can look at compressed files, PDFs and text files. Pictures? Irfanview is the program of choice. Easy to use and to print from, it also does basic manipulation. If the picture is moving or the file is making sound, then by all means be sure to have KLite Mega Codec installed, with its outstanding Windows Media Player Classic as the viewer/listener. Waaaaay better than that creepy spying Windows Media Player installed on your computer. It doesn't come with the psychadelic lava lamp while the music is playing, but I bet you won't miss it. As a fallback, VLC is a solid lightweight bet to play any files MPC balks at.

Recuva is a file recovery utility from the same folks as Crap Cleaner and it gives you added chances at getting things back that the recycle bin seems to have recycled. It won't work all of the time. But short of hiring the guys the military hires to go spelunking on supposedly erased disks, this is your best shot.

Everybody needs a good password program to store all the passwords into one safe place hidden by one password. I like Password Safe. Easy to use, very secure and can be moved from one computer to the next. It will suggest passwords and the ones it suggests are REAL GOOD PASSWORDS.

Of course you are making backups. I think Drive Snapshot's the best actual backup program out there, but it costs money. Not much money and WAAAAAAY worth the money, but it's not free. Having tried it, I see no reason NOT to spend the money. End of discussion. For internal backups that you can set and forget, you can't go wrong with Karen's Replicator. I use it here nightly to make various backups and it's saved my bacon as recently as three months ago when I managed to foul up three backups, but had a fourth waiting and lowering my blood pressure. Recommended very hightly. And while you're backing up, consider doing a regular defragment of your hard-drive. I waffle between jkDefrag and 10Bit Smart Defrag, both of which are very nice for this purpose.

Moving onto accessing the internet (finally), install Firefox, rather than use that security sinkhole Internet Explorer. Add in the NoScript add-on for Firefox, and you're as protected as you're going to be in the morass that is the internet these days. For email, I use Firefox's companion program Thunderbird. I used to prefer Eudora because of Eudora's separation of email and attachments. That was preferable when the default action of anti-virus programs was to delete the whole inbox when dealing with Thunderbird or horribly insecure Outlook and its variants. Now Thunderbird has the same capabilities. Get the Lightning add-in for Thunderbird and there's nothing Outlook and the ilk have to offer but headaches and security issues. For dealing with people who insist on sending you Outlook emails infested with winmail.dat files, you can use Bruno Marotta's Winmail Reader. The .dat format is Microsoft's proprietary compressed file format for attachments. It's a default setting and one you should ask Outlook-using friends (a question ... should friends let friends USE Outlook?) to change.

One last backup program. MozBackup will backup Firefox, Thunderbird and Lightning and that's a good thing.

Grab a copy of Crossloop to let your expert friend take over your machine remotely when the need arrives. It's ultra-secure, incredibly easy to set up and run, and means you can have help immediately, without forcing your friend to get dressed and come over to where you are.

Finally, I then do the Autopatcher download routine. You unzip the file you just downloaded, which creates APup and later, Autopatcher. First, you run APUP to get all the updates downloaded from Microsoft and elsewhere TO your local drive. Then run Autopatcher itself to make all the updates and changes. Autopatcher will, by default, get what you NEED updated, and leave the rest of the stuff (Windows Media Player 11 anyone?) off your computer. Run APUP/Autopatcher once a month, usually on the weekend after Microsoft's Update Tuesday, which is the second one every month. And YES, this means I don't run Windows Update. No telling when it might just decide it doesn't like my local machine's setup, after I changed a hard drive or two. Not worth the hassle to let them hassle me with that Genuine Disadvantage program.

The computer still needs stuff like Open Office, games and other necessities of computer life. But it's a good starting point. And any good starting point needs saving. Hook up the external drive, run Drive Snapshot and tell it to backup the C: AND D: onto the external drive. Will take you about a half-hour on average. When it's finished, THAT'S when you can start adding the fun and frivolity stuff to the computer.

There you have it, a computer devoid of wasted dollars on software, ready for whatever productivity, fun or games software you ARE going to pay for and throw at it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

MISC: The Time of Giving and Receiving is Upon Us

I got my first Christmas gifts today. And, while technically I handed out presents to my parents weeks ago, I couldn't let them arrive, drop off gaily-wrapped bags and then depart. Soooo, they got my hand-made cards inside of a big ho-ho-ho box, the cards having gas cards to pay for the fuel that brought them to my door. And then back to theirs.

Luckily, the tree was up and decorated last weekend, as my child labour force came through with their usual great job. The mob, which has gained and lost several members over the years, was (left to right) A.J., Angela and her friend Megan this year. We started the day off by getting the yearly ornaments for each of them. Must say Megan stepped up in her first year at the Tree-Raising Ceremony with the best of the bunch. Lunch and a movie followed, as I paid for the hard work they were about to indulge in. Then, artifical tree assembled, the ornaments from each past year were hauled out and placed on the tree, year by year, youngest to oldest. Hand-made ornaments, long bright stringy things (no lights) and tinsel were all added. At the conclusion, I placed the angel atop the tree, my one contribution to the effort.

It only took five tries to get the angel in place, which is close to my best effort ever. And it's certainly better than 2006 when I fell off a chair and came close to braining myself on the corner of a wall. Broke the chair, lost the button on my pants and vowed to find a different way to get the angel up on top. I'll leave it your imagination how a 5-8 guy with short arms gets an angel up on top of a 7-foot tree, but I do.

An ominous sign for the future was the difficulty Angela had extricating herself from the back of the tree. My way of thinking is that we decorate the parts of the tree people INSIDE the house can see. The back NEVER gets exposed. But Angela is phobic about leaving the branches on the back unexpanded. She gets back there and makes it look as beautiful as it can be. In the past, she was small enough to drop to the floor and crawl out under the tree's lowest branches. She's a growing girl and found trying to tango around the tree, rather than underneath, was her only option. I'm betting next year she has to give in and let the back of the tree stay all folded up.

This year, from whatever vantage point, the tree looked fantastic as usual.

I often joke that the work the kids put into the tree is slave labour, but they're the ones that keep deciding to raise the tree each year. I've been more than willing to settle into my Scrooge dotage and let the time pass. But the kids, often prevented from working on their own trees at home, seem to delight in setting up their own artistic vision here, free from worry about spoiling their parents' artistic visions. I'm sure their parents would let them do it now, since they've become 'responsible' teenagers. But I get credit for letting pre-teens go wild back in the day. So they work on MY tree exclusively.

Normally, I wait until about a week before the big day before getting the tree up. But circumstances being what they were, I had a tough time finding a hole in the kids' busy social calendar. As a result, the tree's going to be up for the better part of a month and a half. It's usually late January before I find the next hole in their schedule to take it down. Well, that's wrong. I don't even put in the tree-topping effort on the way down. It's ALL the kids, all the way for that one.

Now that it's up and looking pretty, the only complaint I have about having a tree in the living room is it's looming presence in the dark. Once a year (this past Wednesday, for those of you keeping track), I stumble down the stairs in the dark for a late night snack or just to get the paper out of the door. I know the shadows of my house inside and out. But sometimes, I forget we just changed those shadows and I'll have a little conniption when I quickly glance to my left and see a large blob of shadowy blackness. The quick realization of the fright's cause never sits well.

Being afraid of shadows is NOT a good thing when you live alone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SPORTS: Bosh Bashin' ... It's Catching On

My old email-pard, Frank Cook, is going to get an eyeful of Toronto troubles when his Indiana Pacers come to town to tangle with the Raptors in what has to be a totally unpredictable contest.

The reason it's NOT predictable is because currently Chris Bosh is slumping ... and taking the playoff aspirant Raptors with him. Without Bosh playing at near MVP-levels, as he did the first month of the season, the paper-thin local NBA squad is possibly not even the favourite in tonight's heralded Return of the Little Engine ... and Rasho.

A month ago, this game would have strictly been novelty value. How badly will TJ Ford get booed. How madly with Rasho Nesterovic cheered. The game would be a foregone conclusion. Bosh was as bad a beast as there was in the East. The ex-Pacer, Jermaine O'Neal was rounding into his old bad-ass self. Five straight double-doubles, if few finishes. He was maybe another month from turning in 40-minute efforts, instead of flagging in crunch time. There was the niggling off-on performance schedule of Andrea Bargnani, but being at home and on an even game, the stars foretold of a good game. Yep, it was going to be all about squelching Ford and saying good-bye.

But an unfunny thing happened on the way to tonight's game. O'Neal got hurt, followed by the most dreaded gut blow the Raptors could take, an injury to Jose Calderon, the anti-Ford. Both were back quickly. Too quickly. And neither came back at anything like the levels they WERE playing at or COULD play. And that cost Sam Mitchell his job. In the absence of two thirds of the team's talent triangle, the rest of the squad rallied with all the enthusiasm of Fred Weiss watching Vince Carter approach for take-off. Not the most skilled coach in terms of strategy, Mitchell had always had player's effort as his sop to the deficiency. They quit. He got fired. Turns out, they are still looking like quitters three games into Jay Triano's tenure as head man. An agonizing loss to Portland is the only saving grace from a five-game streak where the rest of the losses were all hammer jobs.

And the truth of the matter might be that the man taking the air out of the room might very well be Chris Bosh. Bosh has been ... ordinary and less-than-ordinary throughout December. It's been suggested he might be battling some ailment or maybe the flu. But for two weeks, the man who soldiered on even in the absence of O'Neal and Calderon, has been absent. He's decided he's become a three-point shooting star (he's not). He's played a LOT of Ole defence and his double-doubles of late have been of the cheapest variety possible. He's shown intolerance for the inadequacies of his teammates, recalling the worst days of the West Coast Smirk. In general, he's playing a lot like the way the last Toronto superstar did on his way to the Jersey shore.

Nerves rubbed raw by the jobbing Toronto fans took at the hands of Vince Carter, there's a muttering minority who want to deal Bosh before he demands a trade, or walks 18 months hence on his own. They claim to have seen this act before and they don't like it. They don't like that Bargnani, seemingly ascendent as a defender AND as an offensive weapon just three weeks ago, has followed his leader into the mire of ineffectiveness. They wonder if Mitchell might have been an innocent bystander of Bosh's problems, rather than the presumed cause of it. Worst of all, they don't like that the Toronto team they banked on to overcome the Maple Leaf woes in town, was getting tonged worst that the previously advertised as hopeless puck squad.

To them I say, "Chill out!"

Methinks the Pacers and the ex content will be a tonic for Toronto's troubles. A single win won't solve everything, but I got the feeling it will be the start of emerging from a string of games the Raptors, even a playoff ready team, would have had trouble winning much more than a game or two anyways. The trick is to stop the momentum of the slide. And I think Indiana will provide that very thing.

Bosh has publicly supported Triano but you have to believe he was hurting for his bud, Sam. The brain cramps regularly on display by the likes of Jamario Moon, Will Solomon and ... let's face it ... the grumbly O'Neal, surely must have gotten to him. O'Neal has expected superstar treatment from the refs and hasn't gotten it. He's glowered and glared to not much good effect. He's been pretty much of a black hole with less than stellar results. And the, "I'll be back to my old ways in a month or two," has passed from promising to historically inacurrate. So, Bosh has some issues with teammates and all.

And I don't think he's healthy. He's being outjumped AND occasionally beaten down the floor by folks who have no business racing him. He's NOT ready to lead the league in minutes played. He's tough and wiry and all. But he's wearing down now, after less than two months, because he followed up a busy summer by playing too much under Mitchell's win-now or I might get fired game plan. Prescient that. (Any surprise the other early season minutes-played leader, Stephen Jackson of Golden State, is now out with a long-term injury?)

But the difference between Bosh and Carter is that he has a spine and a heart. Although, it's not as big a heart or as stiff a spine as James, Bryant or Garnett's. He's NOT looking for a way out. Sitting out the fourth quarter (and a fair bit of the third) last night will have Bosh in a foul mood for tonight's contest. That should be bad for Ford et al.

I could be wrong, but I think it's time to quit the Bosh Bashin' and climb back on the bandwagon with those of us who treasure the Texan's sublime talents. Besides, I'll be too busy booing Ford to have anything left for heaping on Bosh.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

COMPUTERS: Sometimes, Idiot I Am

The big switch from Nuklon to Popeye as the main programming computer happens today, (that would be Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008 for those reading sometime NOT Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008). It's happening in the middle of the biggest sustained programming work I've had in years. Doing so is certifiably insane. Which makes me wonder ...


Leaving aside the decision to switch computers mid-to-late project, there's the date I 'picked.' The second Tuesday of the month. Better known on the internet as SLOW COMPUTING DAY. Also AKA Microsoft Patch Tuesday.

I wanted to do one last system update for both Popeye and Nuklon before swapping. I don't use the Microsoft software for doing this. I prefer the external Autopatcher process from I trust the fine folks at Autopatcher to protect me from downloading Microsoft updates that aren't really in my best interest to update. (Windows Media Player 11 comes to mind). However, running APUP.exe tonight was a lesson in futility. No wonder. EVERYBODY east of the International Date Line are logged into Microsoft this very moment, downloading whatever 'gifts' Microsoft has to offer. And they are taking up a LOT of bandwidth.

This must be the world wide web equivalent of the Don Valley Parkway or Santa Monica Freeway at rush hour. Getting nowhere fast.

Sooooo, I thought I'd log into Codegear (makers of my preferred programming language, Delphi), and see if I could download any of the seminar videos from last week's CodeRage III Conference, the one I wanted to go to about ten sessions and wound up seeing two and a half. Of course, a LOT of other programmers, especially in Europe, didn't see any. So they are all logged in right this moment downloading ALL the seminar videos. Trying to sneak in now and get the half-dozen I want, forces me to ask myself a question.

Am I an IDIOT?!?!?!

Okay, so no updates and no videos. I can clean up a little to make transitioning from one computer to other a little easier for my tech guy, Patrick. Since the normal mode here is piles-a-plenty, certain to make Patrick piqued, this is actually productive work. What ISN'T productive, is the decision to switch keyboards on Nuklon, just as it's moving off to the document computer position. I make the switch with minimal effort. That's a lie. There's lots of effort, since the keyboard connector has to go through two (technically three) adapters before being plugged into the computer. When I reboot the computer, of COURSE the new keyboard doesn't work. Which makes me wonder anew?

How BIG of an IDIOT am I?!?!?

What's that you say? "Check the connectors." First thing I did, thank you very much. Well, except for the one connector connecting my whole Rube Goldberg adapter contraption TO the computer. Got pulled out when I was pulling cables through holes. AAAAARGH!!!!

It's apparent that tonight is a total waste of time for me. So I'm turning in early, turning out the lights and hope today will get better. Of such things is hope built on. But I'm fooling myself. The car's going in for repair. The recycling bins put out Sunday await my decision to brave the snow to get them back inside. There's more snow coming, JUST because I need to leave the cave.

Get the feeling that just getting out of bed in five or six hours will the final proof that an idiot, I am?

I do.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

MISC: Are YOU Confused?

You voted Conservative in the election and your party ended up with more seats in the House of Commons than any other. As far as you are concerned, the Conservatives won and the Liberals et al just have to suck it up. But now, the dastardly left has united and is on the precipice of booting the Conservatives out of power, just because Stephen Harper wanted to exercise his political muscle a bit and move Canada further towards a one-party state.

Do YOU think this is undemocratic? Do you think the people of Canada voted Stephen Harper in as Prime Minister and most certainly voted against Stephane Dion as the PM?

Are you a #$@*&#^$# MORON?

The majority of Canadian representatives elected did NOT, and would not, want Stephen Harper to be Prime Minister. The DEMOCRATIC principle would be for the MAJORITY of representatives of the citizens of Canada to name the prime minister of their choice. And that happens, apparently, to be Dion. Apparently, the political parties of Canada prefer not to be marginalized (or even to be strangled financially into oblivion) by a theocrat WITHOUT the support of the majority of Canada. Imagine that. Rather than let Canada be turned into a one-party state, they got together to stop the would-be emperor before his plan could become reality.

Harper called an election that is still not clearly to have been legal. He cheated beforehand, running ads that skated around the law that limits in-campaign advertising. HE knew he wasn't going to obey the law HE came up with to prevent just such snap elections during predatory times. Then, like the American Idol he worships, he took his lack of a consensus and started to rule like he had a super-majority. First step, stomp out the Greens and make life REAL difficult for the squabbling Liberals and down-on-unionized luck New Democrats.

But, like in so many other areas, Harper misguessed the level of opposition. Instead of stamping them out, he dug out their backbones. Of such mistakes are history books written. With that single act of pure avarice and power-grabbing, Harper will have written his own epitaph. Couldn't happen to a better would-be tyrant.

As for this being undemocratic, only idiots imagine majority votes being not so. As for the coalition subverting the will of the Canadian public, it's a fatuous statement by desperate hacks clinging to the power they never had.

Minority governments work due to discourse and consensus. Harper got used to forcing that consensus and assumed the public thrashing Dion took would allow him even more leeway. So, rather than even attempt dialog, he preemptorily ordered further one-sided law-making. Let them eat crap! But kick a dog long enough and they bite back. Hard.

The MAJORITY of the elected representatives of the people conducted their discourse and came to a consensus. OUT with Harper and let that be a lesson to any that might follow in his steps.

Is this good for Canada? I have no idea. I did vote for one of the parties in the coalition. My representative is in the coalition. And I like the ideas already put forth by the coalition WAAAAAY better than the ideas thus far espoused by Harper and his lackeys. Will they work better in these troubled times? I can't tell. But I believe they have a better chance.

A better plan. The ouster of a martinet. A lesson to future generations of politicians. There's a LOT to like about a coalition government returning the rule to the majority of Canada.

Hope that clears up the confusion, you members of the minority Conversative party.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

SPORTS: Evil Incarnate

I have looming programming deadlines and have had precious little time to WATCH sports, let along blog about it. So it is with great reluctance and rage all at the same time that I once again have to appear here to get something off my chest and let me get some sleep.

Friday was a rare day around here. I was roused from my cave to go and have a free lunch with some friends, soon to depart from Brampton as their year-round home. Off to Florida and then a residential move to Niagara. Ed and Jeanine Hills are good folks and the town's going to miss them. That said, I didn't enjoy my free lunch.

Getting into the car, I happened to catch the sports news at the top of the hour. It concluded with the news that David Frost had been acquitted of all charges in his trial in Napanee, Ontario. This is the same David Frost that was the subject of a murder-for-hire attempt by a client, former NHL player Mike Danton (aka Mike Jefferson). Once again, a man I believe is evil, is walking around as a free man.

I wasn't at the trial and I have no idea how the judge, Geoff Griffin, came to the conclusion that the women in the trial weren't entirely believable and that the former players for the Quinte Hawks Junior A hockey team were, when they denied Frost's intimate involvement in their sexual affairs. I was prepared for that ruling. Three weeks ago, I was told that was going to be the result. And yet, I was so distraught when it really did come to pass, that I left half my lunch on the table during my free meal. Not to be flippant, but I don't pass up free food. And I sleep fine most nights, usually from exhaustion these days. And here I am writing up a blog post two hours after trying to fall asleep.

It's been more than two decades since I last had any contact with Frost. And even back then, I probably only had a half-dozen, standing around shooting the breeze, discussions with him at hockey games. Never once did he do or say anything to cause me direct harm. And never once did I not get the feeling that I had just talked to one of the slimiest people in the occasionally self-serving area of minor hockey.

At the time, I was involved with the Bramalea Blues Junior A team. Having watched them as a fan from their inception (a friend's father was the first president of the club), covered them as a reporter for the Guardian for more than a decade, and then having worked directly for club owner Joe Abraham in several capacities, I had a vested interest in the Blues. I truly believe Frost's belief in his own invincibility got started with his decision as a mentor (svengali was more like it), to take several then Bramalea players to Deseronto to play for the Hawks. The transfer wasn't approved, and the aftermath of the departure included missing equipment belonging to the Blues. But rather than fight in any of several venues to stop Frost and his minions from leaving, the sense at the time, was to let this disgusting toad and his players go. Addition by subtraction.

Would we (the Blues) have decided differently! Maybe, just maybe, we might have derailed a disaster in the making in so many lives. On the other hand, Frost was soon to be convicted of slugging one of his players, IN FULL VIEW of an arena of witnesses, so maybe this is just all self-flagellation. That conviction on a greatly reduced charge was a small hiccup. Otherwise, Frost has seemingly never paid in the slightest for his ability to control the lives of his core group of players, down to their sexual experiences. His group of accolytes included several future NHL players and several other almost-weres. He'd gained the trust of the parents of these kids by promising future riches playing the beloved sport of hockey. And he made good on most of the promises. Destroying the relationship these kids HAD with their families was just the price of success.

The CBC and Bob McKeown have made it a mission to try and put the spotlight on this darkest of human souls. So have reporters like Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. The chilling recording of a phone conversation between the imprisoned Danton and Frost, in which Frost forces a profession of love out his client, the same client in jail for trying to arrange Frost's murder, is unforgettable. A grown man simpering into the phone "Love you too," remains an indelible memory from one of the first exposes of Frost that survived lawsuit chill to make it to the general public.

I believe David Frost is evil. The wreckage of families he's left behind in his wake simply beggars the imagination. Time after time, good people, like this judge in Napanee or the RCMP folks that didn't believe Tom Jefferson, the younger brother of Mike, who told tales of being hazed in a potentially illegal way by Frost, Mike and others under Frost's sway, are proven wrong in retrospect. Just as pictures later showed up to vindicate Tom, I'm sure we'll find out later the goings on in that room at the motel in Deseronto were just as the women said.

But it will be too late.

Maybe I'll stop wishing I'd done something about raising hue and cry over Frost's contempt for the rule of hockey and of the law, way back at the beginning. Maybe I'll absolve myself completely for being, in a very small way, one of the many who turned an eye, rather than confront the unpleasantness that is and was David Frost. But it's not going to happen tonight ... this morning ... as I try and get to sleep.

Say a prayer for all of those that hoped justice would be served yesterday.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

MISC: Government Should Divorce Marriage

I thought I'd written up on this before, but apparently not. So, to forestall further conversations, here's what I think about the failure of Proposition 8 in California to protect the rights of gays to get married: I think government (more specifically, the American government) should get the heck out of the marriage business and leave it to each religious group to determine whether they will or won't let any two particular people get married in their house of worship.

Thankfully, we in Canada recognize the idiocy in letting the religious segment of our society dictate to those not of their faith. We let gays marry. For a country with an avowed separation of state and religion, Americans seem awfully bent on letting theocrats have a big say.

That said, I think what we call marriage should be turned into a legal entity called Unioning (or something more elegant, but meaning basically the same). Unioning should be allowed between any two consenting adults. If they want to partner up, so be it. They get all the benefits of partnership and all the warts. If they want to Dissolve (the cute replacement name for divorce), they go through Dissolution Court and split the crap they have gathered together as a couple. In every way, Unioning is the same as Marrying. Spouses can call each other spouse, partner or husband/wife. It's THEIR Union so the rest of us have no say on how they run it. As long as it does not ACTUALLY impact on other parts of society. Real impact, not that phony slippery slope of 'PROMOTING' the act that the Inquisitors want to suggest will happen.

No, the churches, temples, mosques and synagogues can be as discriminatory as they want. If one of these houses of worship don't want to allow two people to marry in their hallowed hall, then it's perfectly okay for them to discriminate. Their house, their rules. If two people, who don't meet the religious gathering's idea of a perfect couple want the blessing of the group, the group doesn't have to give it to them.

Does that mean no gay couple will ever have a church wedding? Of course not. Not all religious groups kowtow to the extremist side of their faith and deny happiness and salvation to those who would worship there, but aren't mainstream to the core of that group. Many ministers, priests and rabbis will choose to endorse the marriage of two people, without respect to their race, creed or sexual preference. The religion might be a key point though [G].

If there were no actual benefits to getting married, I'd tell the gay portion of the world to get over not getting the acceptance of groups that are far less tolerant than the religious origin of their faith. It's shocking how often intolerance is the core of the belief that always seems to mention tolerance favourably in their 'good book.' But there ARE benefits to getting married. They are ensconced in the laws. In fact, the rollback of gay marriage rights in California might very well be struck down due to that very fact. It's discriminatory and the GOVERNMENT can't do that.

Just to be clear. I'm not headed for the altar in a gay marriage (or non-gay marriage) anytime soon. I have a large extended family and percentages say two or three of them are probably gay. I'm championing the idea of Unioning for them, the poor deluded fools who think they might want to get married some day.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

MISC: My Man Merv

Catching up with some of my regularly-read blogs, I happened onto this one by Earl Pomerantz on the subject of haircuts. Regardless of your interest in the particular subject matter, it's worth reading. In fact, almost all of Pomerantz's stuff is worth reading. Like Ken Levine, Pomerantz is an old comedy writing pro (including an episode of the Cosby Show and more than a few anecdotes about why it wasn't more). He's also a transplanted Canuck from down the road in Toronto. But I digress.

In Earl's recollection of barber shops, his barber's name was Tony. Always Tony. No matter which of the barbers in the eight-seat shop he ended up getting cleaned up by, the barber's name was Tony. Most likely, from the dialog, Italian Tony. And I'm sure he's telling us straight, at least as far as a comedy writer can write a straight line.

Me? My man was Merv.

Merv's Barber Shop sat at the corner of Airport and Derry Roads in Malton. I lived there for a minute or two, before moving up the road and over a bit to Bramalea. Where I've spent the last four decades plus. But even after moving to Bramalea, my dad would still take Wayne, Rick and me back to Malton for our semi-regular haircuts.

Two things to know about Merv. He looked like Wayne Newton of the later years, especially the hair. And he was also a real estate agent. You can fill in the rest.

About thirty years ago, just about the time I was getting old enough NOT to be taken somewhere for a haircut by my parents, there was a big fire in Malton. The corner of Airport and Derry Roads was razed to the ground, a gigantic cinder. And that was the end of My Man Merv ... as a barber. He became Merv the Millionaire Real Estate tycoon full-time. I've never had a regular barber since. And certainly not a hair stylist ... as both my friend Patrick and his boy A.J. proudly boast of having.

But the end of Merv's Barber Shop did NOT stop my regular pilgrimages to the site!

From out of the fire that consumed Merv's Barber Shop, rose in it's place, an automobile repair shop. My Dad, so used to going to the corner for years and years, starting taking his cars in for repair there when he needed something beyond his own not-inconsiderable mechanical skills. Victor's Auto Repair became the family car repair place.

For whatever reason, the corner of Airport and Derry Roads has had a magnetic pull on the Mugfords. It's always been a place where dependable, affordable services could be found.

But it all started with My Man Merv.

Monday, November 03, 2008

MISC: Yes, I'm Alive!

It's been a half-month since I posted. A half-month of taking on just a little bit more work than I should have, promising results in an idiotically short time. My bad. But I remain immersed in the work and it looks like slow going for the next two months still. I'll try to be around a bit more often than once every two or three weeks. But daily just ain't gonna happen.

MISC: I've Never ...

There are many things I've never been. A great athlete. An artist. Musical. A linguist. Black. Tall. Female. There are others. But you get the idea. Some of those attributes are genetic, some owe at least something to genetics.

On the other hand, I have been a reader since early in my life and it has been amongst my greatest pleasures. And that's not something everybody can say. For some, the answer, the first answer that comes to mind when asked to complete the sentence, "I've never ...," is "been able to read."

I caught the second episode of the British Fame remake, Britannia High, on the weekend. It deals with a flashy, popular high schooler, who can't read. In the end, he recognizes the problem and starts on the path of dealing with it. It was predictable but still caused a knot in my stomach.

Having always read, I've never been able to understand NOT knowing how. I almost don't have ANY memories of the times before I read. For me, not knowing how to read is as unfathomable as what life might be like on distant stars and planets. And yet, there are people I've met who DID know what that was like.

Within the extended family I have, I know of one adult who had to take remedial reading courses in his 30's. And a girl I suspected of being dyslexic never got tested. Never finished high school. Never became the success she might have otherwise.

Because that's the tragedy of illiteracy. So many of those burdened by it are actually waaaay smarter than average. Think about it. They can't read, yet manage to hide that fact for DECADES!

A line in the TV episode referred to a happy time, when his family went on vacation in Spain. There, the whole family was in his little dinghy, needing to ask people what signs said, what was on the menu and how to read maps and directions. He didn't feel alone that fortnight. But for the functioning illiterate, every day feels like a nightmarish vacation in a far-off land.

In some cases, these people arrived at their adult years because of bad education or missed opportunities. For those people, admitting it and getting help, can result in unburdening themselves of a hidden shame incredibly quickly. Their native intelligence and a dedicated teacher can eradicate all that stopped them from enjoying the benefits and pleasures that you and I take for granted.

On the other hand, the portion if illiteracy that is attributable to dyslexia is unfortunately high. Many, many dyslexics are above-average intellectually. They have to be. Every sequence of letters provides a puzzle for them to solve. The old 'Sound it out' instruction asks them to do the impossible. It takes expertise to catch the problem early and dedication by parents, teachers and child to minimize the effects dyslexia makes on their lives.

I tried to steer the young girl through the maze of roadblocks to getting her tested back in her youth. I failed. Her parents were horrified at the thought their bright young girl could be damaged in any way. The teachers took the question as an indictment of their teaching. And I gave up. And, unfortunately, unlike the TV show, there was no happy ending.

Not everybody will become a voracious reader. I fail to understand why, but I accept that a lot of people never get to find that story that lights their imagination and fuels their love of reading. They are all the poorer for it. But everybody deserves to be able to read enough to get by and reserve the right to be entertained later.

If you see a child, any child, who shows the slightest symptom of having reading problems, don't let the 'honour' of others get in your way. Insist on professional testing. Pay for reading lessons from a good teacher. Do what you have to do, to avoid years, decades, of the kind of personal hell illiteracy can drown a person in.

You sure don't want to ask yourself the question I ask myself whenever I see the subject come up. "Why I never tried harder?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

BOOKS: Monk, Books 1, 2 and 3

I have the five Monk books by Lee Goldberg. I have read the first three, will heartily recommend the fourth and fifth unread and encourage you to think about the sixth as a Christmas present for anyone you know who's a reader and enjoys light comedic mysteries. I fall into that category, hint, hint, if any family member is reading this and has the upcoming Monk Goes to Germany on my assigned gift list.

The reason I've only read the first three books is my new-found determination not to ruin a good thing and read exclusively one author and one character to the point of getting tired of both. I LIKE Adrian Monk, the latter-day Sherlock that stars in the eponymous USA Networks TV show. Tony Shalhoub has won a shelf full of awards for the obsessive-compulsive disorder plagued detective who's perpetually solving crimes despite himself. The sharp-eyed detective is so wracked by OCD that he can barely survive in the world, but with the help of big-hearted assistant Natalie Teeger (played by Traylor Howard on TV), he does survive and actually, to a certain extent, thrives.

Goldberg makes a winning choice to write the books from Natalie's point of view, rather than trying to take a reader through the escher-like labrynth of Monk's mind. That way lies madness, afterall. Natalie, on the other hand, allows Goldberg to expand Monk beyond the single obvious mystery of the week. Most of the background is known to veteran viewers of the Monk show, in the midst of its seventh season break. But little tidbits about a woman clinging to her own family's survival, one day at a time, help flesh out the character. Howard's portrayal of Natalie is adorable. Goldberg's writing makes her more so.

I skipped the first book in the series because I mistakenly believed the novel was just an expansion of the fifth season TV episode, Monk Can't See A Thing, which Goldberg co-wrote. I read Goldberg's blog and somehow formed the wrong impression that it wasn't a completely separate novel, that just shared the same setting as the TV show. I did end up reading it and enjoying it. Monk has to temporarily move in with Natalie and her tween-aged daughter Julie. The distraction allows Monk to miss some obvious clues that even I spotted along the way. Still, in the end, Monk pulls out all the stops in cornering the book's main culprit, while solving something between 10 and 20 other murders along the way. All of those were of the "Oh by the way, your killer is ..." variety. Including the last one, that disposed of one of the many intriguingly-named minor characters.

Goldberg does have a way with names. Having read more than my share of Perry Mason and The Shadow novels over the years, I gather he has a similar reading background.

Monk gets out of his San Francisco base for the second book in the series (and the first I read), Monk Goes to Hawaii. Goldberg obviously relished his time researching Hawaii for the book, as it becomes quite the travelog at times. While Monk solves a few issues for the local police, Detective Keal0ha doing a good job standing in for SF Captain Stottlemyre, the main mystery involves catching and convicting a fake TV Psychic. THAT payoff comes back in San Francisco. It produces a very satisfying conclusion, especially after the psychic had such a fun time dredging up old memories for both Monk and Natalie.

The central conceit of the Monk TV series is that Adrian Monk was a functioning, successful policeman until the death of his wife. After her murder, Monk fell apart, finding only strict order as the way to avoid further descent into madness. Unfortunately, letting his life-long OCD rise to the forefront cost him his badge. In turn, he needed an assistant/nurse/babysitter to let him at least use those amazing deductive skills that survived his breakdown. In the TV series, Bitty Schram played the original assistant, Sharona. Schram played the part with equal parts Jersey sass and as a compassionate nurse. I do miss Sharona, her mini-skirts and her attitude, but have grown to appreciate Natalie, who was widowed when her husband Mitch dies in the war, all the more.

The best of the three is Monk and the Blue Flu. Again, the joy in reading this book is 'hearing' the voices of Shalhoub and Howard as they take their characters to new depths. But this book expands the cast of characters to show Monk might not have it so bad afterall. Monk has to step in to run the homicide squad when the city's cops call a wildcat strike. With all of the detectives out with the Blue Flu, the mayor asks Monk to accept his badge back and gives him a team of misfits, most of which are worse off than he is. In fact, the group each have their own versions of Natalie: a psychiatrist, an anger management counsellor and a loving grand-daughter, sparking Natalie's hopes of forming an association of sidekicks.

Monk's most obvious fixation in this book is the murder of an astrologer. Since I count Toronto Sun columnist Eugenia Last amongst my friends, it was of interest to me too. If they ever turn THIS book into a TV episode, I think Eugenia would be a perfect choice to play the offed diagrammer of the stars. At any rate, Monk DOES solve this murder, although it was a little easier than some puzzles I've read in the books. The Z-Team does its city proud, too. When the effects of the flu pass, largely due to Monk's work, the circumstances return to normal. And you can feel the great sadness within Monk as it does. NOTE: Goldberg could do worse than write a short story or two about the new detective agency born from the remnants of Monk's team.

I like the TV show and I like the books. They aren't classic. But they ARE entertaining and a good escape from whatever is wearing you down. I admit that Monk's OCD gets very convenient in terms of plot requirements. He has exactly the problem that either exacerbates the issues or helps solve the crime each step of the way. He can get less compulsive if the circumstances require it. But these books do a good job of exploring those times and gives them a bigger covering of reasonability. If you like the show and you like reading, than this is the series for you.

Three down, three to go. The three to go will be some time in the new year, which will get 2009 off to a good start.

Monday, October 13, 2008

HARDWARE: What's In a Name?

My new computer, Popeye, has arrived and I'm finding time to set it up a little bit at a time and will finally do the inevitable and move over central programming to it sometime in the next week. Interestingly, I was reading Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor column this week and noticed something peculiar.

He names many, if not all of his computers, with feminine names. My computers all get masculine names, due to my occasional need to curse them out. Just can't do that to a woman, even a silicon representation of one. I've had, in reverse order, Popeye, Olly, Nuklon, Moby Dick, Livingstone, Kingston, Gonzo (Speedy Gonzalez), Dirty Three-33, Bippy and Amadeus, as for the PCs of most recent vintage. I'm sure there were machines with names starting with C, E, F, H and I but being an old man, I've forgotten them. Right now, Nuklon is in the boss position, but will switch with Popeye. Olly's in my bedroom, where it operates silently for overnight backup operations and the occasional web-browsing. Both Kingston and Moby Dick (a laptop) await the occasional use, but neither is on, all the time. In fact, I think Kingston is going to another home some time soon.

Try naming YOUR computer. If you think you will always love it (you won't), then go ahead and giving it a loving name. If you think you'll end up swearing at it (you will), then follow my advice and keep it masculine, or at least gender neutral. When it comes time to finally yell, "NAME, you #%)(*&_#(* hunk of junk," you'll feel better.

I know I did.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

SPORTS: I Wonder...

It's become common place for teams to ice field goal kickers on late field goal attempts in the NFL. Once more today, the idea seems to have screwed up royally. By the way, this was originally a Mike Shanahan idea. The Arizona Cardinals wish they've never heard of it, after calling timeout JUST BEFORE a FAILED field goal attempt to force overtime. Naturally, the Nick Polk field goal redux sailed right through the uprights, forcing overtime.

So, here's a variation on the old icing routine. Stand there beside the referee looking for all the world like you are going to call timeout, just before the attempt is made. The offensive team aren't idiots. They see you standing there. So, I wonder what would happen if the defending team NEVER CALLED THE TIMEOUT!

Wanna bet the clockwork precision of the field goal attempt would be thrown off? I think it would. Especially if it's a last-second lose-or-tie kind of kick.

And what's great, the occasional play-acting would put some teeth back INTO the icing attempt. Would the defensive team call the timeout or not? That's the kind of disruptive thought process the whole thing was supposed to induce in the first place.

UPDATE: Arizona won in overtime anyway. Never mind.

TV: Leverage

The playoff baseball broadcasts have traditionally been used as a platform to publicize the new fall shows coming from whichever broadcaster is doing any individual games. TNT is doing the Pennant Series (so much better than League Championship Series, don't you think?). One of the new shows it will broadcast later this year is Leverage. I don't know which Canadian network or channels will be broadcasting it, but I intend to watch. It's got a lot of promise.

I saw the pilot weeks ago and actually thought it might have been a failed pilot because I didn't see it on any of the TV Fall Previews I saw. Or maybe a mid-season pick-up. And that saddened me. It's a heist show with a real sense of thriller, but that little spark of humour that always permeates the best in this genre in this century, British TV's Hustle.

Timothy Hutton has reached middle-age. Doesn't seem even yesterday that he was a callow youth with a great acting future ahead of him. His resemblance to his later father Jim is remarkable. He plays the leader and brains of a heist team made up of a cat burglar (played with sexy insouciance by Beth Riesgraf), a martial artist (played by ex-Angel co-star Christian Kane), a flighty actress (played by Mrs. Jekyll herself, Gina Bellman) and a savvy techster (Aldis Hodge, last seen by me in Friday Night Lights).

In the pilot, they go after a slimy corporate executive. The caper goes smoothly, too smoothly. Later, the gang has to go to Plan B to take on the REAL slimy corporate executive, played with relish by Canuck Saul Rubinek, who might be the best in the biz at that kind of role. The caper doesn't go smoothly. Which is why the smooth Plan C results in the emotional and monetary payoff the viewer wants.

Hutton's rationale for the original sting and continued use of his team is something with resonance in today's world. It helps for a bond between the viewer and this band of law-breakers. It's necessary, just at the humourous joking between the gang members is.

It's what made Hustle great and what will likely make Leverage an above-average American attempt at duplicating the show.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

MISC: The Election

As I watch the tragic comedy that is the American election, it has come time to point out the fact that Canada goes to the national polls on Tuesday with an amazingly similar problem. How do we elect a representational government when the choices are so unpalatable?

The current government is a minority Conservative one. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who worships George W. Bush in an unseemly way, is mostly like Bush, yet unlike him at the same time. The likeness is this: he believes he's right and to hell with everybody who disagrees with him. And he's not going to let a little thing like the law stop him from ruling the universe ... well at least Canada. He wants to cut taxes and set up little fiefdoms called provinces. That's minimizing government. He WILL interfere in citizen's lives, but more or less wants less of that interference than his American idol. And the unlike aspect boils down to this. More than a third of the country still likes, admires and trusts him.

Harper likely broke the law in making a hasty call to elections three months ago. It was go to the polls now or be wiped out when the newly federally-mandated elections were to be held NEXT October. Not a stupid man (yet another difference), Harper saw the impending crisis looming. At least sort of. He knew the economy of North America, driven so largely by the USA, was going into the toilet. He didn't realize it was a four-flusher, but he saw the downturn that was inevitable. He needed to go now, or face the kind of accusatorial politicking that he and his party couldn't win against. Also, another year meant another 12 months of his various political flunkies screwing up. That happens to all governments. Sometimes, a majority government can afford to slough off a few seats because of the very human failings of its politicians, some newly exposed to having power.

But the best part of calling the snap election was that it came at a time where he could run ads BEFORE calling the election, painting the Liberal leader Stephane Dion in a negative light and NOT have it count against electioneering limits. Plus, the coffers of the opposition parties weren't nearly in battle readiness, as each other party was enjoying that last little lull before ratcheting up for the lawfully planned election next year.

Too bad that pesky law stood in Harper's planned way. No matter. He ignored it. The ultimate Shrubbist approach. So we vote Tuesday.

Dion is as intractable in his own way as Harper is in his own. Dion is a great minister, knowledgeable, dogmatic and usually right. He is, surprisingly, a lousy leader. He just can't bend. And the decision that the Liberals pre-announce The Green Shift, a booster for Canadian responsibility to the ecology of the country and the planet, was probably the deciding factor in Harper calling the election.

Canada is a liberal country. Not a Liberal country, but a liberal one. We elect Liberal governments regularly, throwing them out in a spasm every now and then when the party gets too big for its britches. Pork and screw-ups cause these spasms. We resent majority Liberal governments handing out pork without regard for public outcry. And long-term majority governments get lazy and stop remembering they are there to serve the people and not their cronies. So the spasm. But spasms end and so do our brief dalliances with the Conservative party.

If Dion had kept The Green Shift under wraps until after in place as a majority government, his party could have enacted the plan. The trick was to get INTO power while enjoying the majority an act like The Green Shift requires to become law. Then, four years of implementation would blunt its negative impact in campaign sound bites. "He wants to raise the gas tax." Simple, and enough to push Dion into third place in the national picture when the election campaigning got started. It was, and is, one of the greatest PR blunders in Canadian political history.

Of course, there are other parties in the election. The New Democratic Party has always been strategically to the far left of the Liberals, but jumped inside, towards the centre, because of The Green Shift. Unlike the two extremist idealogues that head the main parties, Jack Layton is a humanistic leader who is undoubtedly the best of the lot contesting for the job as Canada's leader. A Layton-led Liberal team without The Green Shift baggage, would be a majority winner (Old NDP-er Bob Rae, a runner-up to Dion in the Liberal leadership race, would have been equally successful). The problem with Layton is that his party's tenure as the ruling party in Ontario was one of the great social misadventures of the last century. While the NDP are more centrist than ever, that fear lurks that they would jump back to the edge once opportunity presented itself.

The Green Party is relatively new on the national stage. Well-spoken Elizabeth May has gained admirers from across the nation to her party's cause. In fact, some 10 percent of Canadians polled say they support the party. About the same, all from Quebec, support the Bloc Quebecois, originally formed to support the idea of Quebec separatism. Which should tell you something. Any respect I personally had for May disappeared when she elected to run against a supposedly unbeatable Conservative candidate in Nova Scotia while passing up a solid chance to gain election victory in the Green stronghold of British Columbia. Leaders lead from the front, not from the sidelines. In politics, anyway.

So it comes down to voting for one of the above. Not.

That's the rub. Unlike in the United States, where you get three votes for your national representation (four, really), Canadians vote once. And that's NOT for the leader of the country. We vote for our member of parliament and hope that he or she acts responsibly, voting for the prime minister if given the opportunity, else providing a staunch voice for our local concerns. Compare that with the American system where each citizen can vote for President, each of two senators and for a representative to the House. With that kind of spread-the-wealth opportunity, Americans can blunt the power of the party IN power, or allow it unfettered reign. With a little judicious use of the ballot, Americans can roughly achieve that that we have here, minority government. Or make the mistake of giving the right or left total control.

I have long held that I have to vote FOR somebody, not against. As a result, I have spoiled four of the last six ballots I entered the booth with. Only twice have I been convinced I should actually vote for a particular candidate. And having talked to the three main party's candidates, I find myself, once again, intending to cast a counting vote in the election, rather than voting for them all. All in this case, meaning none of the above. I SERIOUSLY contemplated a vote for a party I have never voted for in my life. As much as I despise Harper's willingness to dispense with the law of the land, I DID seriously consider the Conservative candidate. She might very well be a strong voice in the advent of a Harper win, majority or minority. I could not ignore that benefit to my community.

In the end, in three days' time, I will have to see if my initial decision survives the next two days' worth of news. The edge of the cliff I stand on is pretty thin.

As for prognostications, I'm calling for another Conservative minority. One that includes the enticing possibility of a coalition of the Left actually having a majority. That's pie in the sky dreaming, because it would possibly lead to Prime Minister Layton. Much more likely is that the left won't align completely against Harper, instead preferring to keep him in check through these next rough four years. And the key, I think, is that the Bloc will become national heroes in one respect. Their blocking of Conservative gains in Quebec will actually stop the Conservative majority from becoming reality.

That has to be the defining irony of Canadian politics.

Monday, October 06, 2008

MISC: Check Out Cuban

Mark Cuban is a "Love Him/Hate Him" kind of guy. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks and HDNet, plus assorted ventures neither your or I know about, Cuban is a newsmaker. And he's an old time computer geek that writes an informative blog several times a week.

What Cuban writes about is business, life and the Mavs, basically in that order. I find he's right most of the time, taking into account I'm overestimating my ability to know when I'm being filibustered. But I got the feel, he's mostly right. He tells tales of his own warts and mistakes, as well as making regular suggestions on how to make the world a better place. At least the business world.

His current blog as of today is all about the secrets of getting rich. Hmmmmm. A hot button topic given today's economical environment if there ever was one. And by the way, if you DO go over there and read it, don't forget to read the blogs in the link at the bottom of the post. It's a little autobiography of the early days of a billionaire. Not all of the early days. It only obliquely references his job as a garbage bag saleskid, or the bar he opened up in university, while shy of the legal drinking age himself. (Check out Their bio on Cuban was a great read).

At any rate, since I'm stuck in the work mire for right now, let Cuban do my writing for me.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

SPORTS: Phillies Over Angels in Fall Classic?

Okay, this should have gone up last night. I erred in the posting date for the blog. So read this with a grain of salt.

I'm still in mourning for Justin Morneau and the rest of my new team, the Minnesota Twins. Just one measley RBI was all I asked of my fellow Canuck. That and a good pitching performance from Nick Blackburn.

I got the latter, but not the former, and it will be Ozzie Guillen's Chicago White Sox that will be moving on to play Tampa starting Thursday night. And ultimately, it was a well-deserved win by the White Sox. John Danks was masterful. Old man Jim Thome had one more big hit in him. And equally old man, Ken Griffey, had one more defensive act of heroism in him. It's a little hard to get too p.o.'d over good guys like Griffey, Thome and Paul Konerko getting one last hurrah. Besides, I never thought the Twins had a chance when I picked them weeks ago to supplant the Toronto Blue Jays in my affections.

So, it comes time to predict the World Series outcome, in order to have some sort of rooting interest in baseball. I WANT Pat Gillick to go out a winner. So the easy answer is Philadelphia to win it all. And that's doable. The favourites, the Chicago Cubs, do have another favourite one-time Toronto employee, Reed Johnson, but he's more backup than big factor these days. Chicago gets extra points for having a Canuck, Ryan Dempster. But that still doesn't add up to Gillick's numbers. And remember, I need him to take over the presidency of the Blue Jays so he can fire the unmentionable one as GM and let me come home to my home team to cheer on. Milwaukee does have TWO Canucks in the front office, including the lamented ex-GM of the Jays, Gord Ash. But that's still too little to balance off Gillick. And the Dodgers employ Manny Ramirez, which more than off-sets Canuck Russell Martin. A pox on the manchild, and sorry for getting Joe Torre caught in the cross-fire.

As for the A.L., I can't cheer on Chicago. They did in my Twins fer gawdsakes! Jason Bay and the Bosox aren't a horrible choice, but I'm sick of Boston winning so much lately. It'd be different if the Curse of the Bambino was alive and kicking and there was a good chance at a Chicago-Boston World Series. I like Tampa Bay, despite a lean Canuck connection. Gabe Gross, ex of the Jays, is a good guy, but I'm not a fan of another ex-Jay, Eric Hinske. A wash. So that leaves the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Hate the name, but loved the park, the last non-Toronto big league stadium I've been too. And how can you NOT cheer for Vladimir Guerrero?

Well, I can when he must succumb to Pat's Phillies in the World Series. But I'll hate myself doing it!

MISC: Rewrite!!!

Ken Levine writes a great daily blog about his past career as a writer on TV sitcoms from M*A*S*H to ones that you probably never heard of, to his current gig doing radio for the LA Dodgers. He's funny and filled with all kinds of stories and anecdotes from his career. Plus, he hands out free advice like anxiety pills at a Congressional vote on economic bailouts.

Today's entry struck a cord. He writes about a mentor that treated him with tough love back in the day when he was just starting to learn how to write things, other than Ohio State 21, Northwestern 7. He got 'edited' by his mentor, thereby starting him on the path towards learning to be a great communicator.

For me, I had several mentors, not the least of which was Ken Giles. 'Scoop' or 'Chuck,' he answered to both when people purposely didn't use his name, was my editor for the first 12 years of my professional life. I get my love of alliterative descriptions from him. He once strung together seven adjectives in a row starting with S. I can't remember it all, but it ended up with soggy sod. I invite you to try to match him.

At any rate, The Boss (which is what I have called him all of my adult life) always corrected me in the least embarrassing way possible. When I got it into my dumb skull that optician was spelled optition for a couple of weeks, he corrected all the mistakes the first week, and then asked me gently the second week to spell the work out loud. I did. Correctly. "Then why are you typing optition instead?" He was curious. Wanted to know. I didn't know. And that was the end of the problem.

For more than a decade, he edited my sports stuff. I had other editors for my computer and bridge columns. And still more when I started the trivia column. (I tried, unsuccessfully, to fill up half the paper each week. But I came close!!) Each of them frequently had a problem with my column style. It was like this blog. Lots of short non-sentences, broken up occasionally by an attempt to break the world's longest sentence record. Most of the editors at The Guardian and then later with other papers, treated me as the tempermental wordsmith that I was. In other words, with kid gloves. Still, they would be bemused at my attempts to create literature rather than newspaper work, which was supposed be squarely aimed at the grade 8 reader. In later years, when I'd learned better, I had to deal with a junior sports reporter who fancied himself a writer. He was wrong. My revenge today is that he's an editor. Heh, heh, heh.

As I got older, I did branch out, once again, to writing for the major Toronto dailies. I had extensive dealings with them while in high school as a high school sports correspondent. Later, I did lots of work with The Star. But the most interesting experience was my one and only trip into the offices of the Toronto Globe and Mail, to do up a story on the Brampton Canadettes Hockey Tournament.

I'd been doing odd stuff for the Globe for years, going back to the time just after high school. But it was an all-phone affair. This time, I had to go to the office to file the story. I got a friend, Arvid Yorkman, to accompany me to the place. I'd never been there and I tend to get lost. So he drove me from the tournament site in Mississauga (yeah, I know, a different town. But this was billed as the world's largest women's hockey tournament and one city was not big enough to hold it. Still isn't to this day). We got lost, but finally trundled up to the editorial floor and sat down at the desk where my 'editor' at the Globe sat during the day.

For reasons that will become obvious, I won't name said editor. A LOT of his proteges are in the business to this day and are my friends. That said, our mentor at the Globe had a drinking problem. That hit home when I opened a drawer looking for a pencil and found an open bottle of some spirits, the cap off. If there was any more cliched caricature of a hard-drinking reporter than my mentor, I have yet to meet him or her.

We used newsprint, carbons and typewriters back in those days. That's carbon paper for making copies, not carbon-dating. I quickly typed up five half-sheets, did a little hand-editing of my own, and then walked the result over to the night sports editor. I was feeling pretty good. In fact, I was going to ask for my own by-line, rather than the ubiquitous 'Special to the Globe and Mail' that appeared under all of my previous stories.

The Editor harrumphed as he scanned through the writing. The first line, a perfect pearl of reportage, got left unchanged. EVERY OTHER LINE on five pages got changed with a swipe of red grease pencil. I am not kidding. EVERY LINE! Even the one with a score in it got changed...well deleted. But that's the same thing. EVERY LINE!

Where once I stood waiting to have my name attached in triumph, I now looked hopefully for cracks in the floor to flow through. Gawd, it was embarassing.

The crushing appraisal done, the editor stuck his hand in the air, clutching the sheets of crap, and yelled "Re-write!!!" If you want the complete comical graphic image, he was chawing a big cigar while doing it and that cigar seemed to jump with each syllable of "re-write!" I turned to leave, never to set foot in the place again. In fact, I was thinking maybe this sports-reporting gig wasn't for me. I HAD majored in math and a computer career beckoned.

But the editor saved my reporter career, at least for a decade or so, with the next words out of his mouth. "Good job kid."

And so I went back to work perfecting my reporting craft. I got better. Editors like The Boss and the unnamed Globe night man saw to that. Love and Tough Love. I needed both.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SPORTS: Feeling Good About My Twinkies

Well, I could have done without Alexi Ramirez's record-setting grand slam for the White Sox Monday as they bested the Detroit Tigers to earn a playoff rematch with my Minnesota Twins today. The game's going to be a bear to play. Cold, windy and an unneeded distraction on the way to Tampa Bay.

Nick Blackburn's going to prove he has ice water in his veins in more ways than one today. It's going to be cold and blustery in Chicago, regardless of whether ChiSox manager Ozzie Guillen blows up or not. The guy was warming up Bobbie Jenks with a four-run lead Monday night, KNOWING he had another tilt today with the home-and-resting Twins. Whatever magic Guillen once had, it's gone. Now, it will be a case of the old Chicago fogies against the kids from Minny.

Normally, I'd take age, experience and treachery over youthful exuberance. But the Twins aren't all wet behind the ears. Justin Mourneau, my fellow countryman, will get an extra shot at overtaking Josh Hamilton for the A.L. RBI crown. He enters the game one ribbie behind. A.L. batting champ, Joe Maurer, has proven the previous hitting title wasn't a fluke, which I honestly though it was. My PARENTS weren't born when the last catcher before Maurer won a batting title. But when you do something twice, you can remove fluke from the conversation.

The Twins were left for dead two weeks ago, and now they detour to Chicago to prove the dead can rise again. And again. And again.

Say, is Thursday's tilt between the Twins and Tampa Bay on against the vice-presidential skewering?

MISC: Ahah!, You Telephoning Miscreants!!!

At 12:03 am this morning I entered my phone number at the Canadian National DO NOT CALL Registry. On a night where I answered the phone only to hear that mental midget from the National Gift Registry, plus another pitch to do my doors and windows, I answered sweetly, "For the LAST time, I do not want to hear from you again. Please be aware I am registering with the Do Not Call registry tonight at midnight. And from now on, your voice at the other end of this line will cost you money, 'cuz I'll be REALLY QUICK to register complaints with the service. Enjoy the rest of your life. Good-bye!"

Of course, the schmucks will continue calling throughout October without much risk of the government reaching into their pockets. But come Halloween time, their worst nightmare will be calling me. I will make it my life's purpose to clobber these cold-callers, especially with those lying pests from that Gift Registry. You know, the ones that start with "You or somebody in your family filled out a survey ..." THOSE guys I don't just want fined. I want them maimed and made incapable of procreating.

And while you at the task of making your life more peaceful, don't forget to drop by Michael Geist's site and send a message to those folks that get exceptions from the Do Not Call Registry and stop them before they take advantage in the break in the litany of supper-time phone calls.

Now, if we could only find a way to get a minority government back in place, Canada would be in GREAT SHAPE!

Monday, September 29, 2008

TV: Don't Cross Out The Border

As surprises go, I have to say I really like a show returning tonight for it's second season premiere. And it's Canadian. And it's NOT a comedy. The Border is a smart piece of Canadian drama that snuck up on me last week.

I've had a recorded set of the show since it went off the air in the spring, just waiting to bubble to the top of my viewing pile. And with neither the Argos or the Blue Jays enforcing the sports-first rule on the tube, I finally managed to get through the 13 episodes over the last few days. It's GOOD stuff that looks American quality and doesn't hide the fact that it is about Canadian policework.

That's not to say that there isn't key American content. I only recorded it because Sofia Milos was the imported star and Milos is usually very watchable. And besides, you have to love the accent. But it turns out, she wasn't in all of the shows, including missing the pilot. That didn't turn out to be a problem.

The Canadian cast was largely unknown to me, save for Catherine Disher, who's graced the screen up here back to her engenue days on Forever Knight. She's a woman of substance these days, in more ways than one, but she seems to be the one the squad at Immigration and Customs Security sends in undercover. Charming in a way. And let me tell you, Disher does more with a look out over glasses perched low on her nose, than most actors do with a minute-long dialog.

Male lead James McGowan was controlled and mostly worked. The only clunker of an episode was the one where he quit to save his daughter getting hit with a bogus charge, but later saved the day at a nuclear plant. He had trailed his daughter and her wacko boyfriend to the plant, where he defused a bomb with seconds to go. Otherwise, Major Mike Kessler was stalwartly Canadian throughout.

The rest of the squad is a mix of good character actors, including Mark Wilson, Graham Abbey and Nanzeen Contractor. The latter two are the 'hot' young 'uns. I believe this is Contractor's first TV role, but she plays the Muslim agent as a lot less of a token role as it might have been. Again, it's just good stuff.

However, all of the preceding cast pales before computer hacker extraordinaire Heironymous Slade, played by Jonas Chernick. It's a cliched role in many ways but has more depth than most of the hacker depictions I've seen. His dalliance with guest star Sarah Podemski (one-third of the fabulous Podemski chicks -- their description, not mine) elevated him from total nerd-dom. That Podemski's character broke his heart, crushed it really, was something you could really feel. Kudos for casting Podemski and having her hook up with Chernick rather than say Abbey's Gray Jackson.

And more kudos for casting Grace Park for half of this season's episodes, although I do NOT believe she is in tonight's return. The mini-cliff-hanger ending from last year will probably dominate the screen. It's best to leave the impending battle between Park's and Milos' characters until later.

And to the imagination.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

BOOKS: Simon Hawke's Time Wars Series

Simon Hawke is a prolific science fiction writer predominantly rooted in the past, while writing about events centuries ahead. He's written a fair bit of Star Trek material and his books about a revived Merlin in contemporary times, the so-called Wizard series, were all entertaining.

But there's a downside to being proliferate. It's possible to burn out readers. Until that happens, the readin's purrty good, though.

Case in point. The Time Wars series. Take a bunch of time traveling commandos. Insert them into historically famous situations, anxious to observe, participate AND keep the flow of time intact by leaving no lasting effect of their presence. That it's the equivalent of a War Games battle scenario is the tough pill to swallow. But it does make sense in a convoluted way.

What you get is an interesting re-telling of various historical stores, usually from other viewpoints than those used in the original material. And it works, until you get tired of the same basic plot, who's ending you suspect BEFORE reading the first page. THAT's when you have to set aside the remaining books while you go off and read other series, three or four books at time.

That's right, the King of Series-reading (me) now suggests reading no more than three or four books in any particular series at a time. In a near-future post, I will tell you how well it worked for me with the Monk books by Lee Goldberg.

I got four books into the Time Wars before reaching out to grab Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer. (Afterwhich I needed the non-time paradox hilarity of Goldberg's writings). Review in a few days.

Back to Hawke. The best part of the books, twelve in all, all released in about a year's time, was the chance to revisit old classics. And some of the classics were ones I never read!!!

It started with The Ivanhoe Gambit and continued through The Timekeeper Conspiracy, which took me back through the Ivanhoe stories of England and then the Three Muskateers era in France. Immensely entertaining. Time Commandos Lucas Priest and Finn Delaney made an entertaining lead duo, eventually teaming up with Andre Cross, aka Andre De La Croix. She's one of the few forward time-jumpers in the original quartet of books. All in all, reliving the adventures of Ivanhoe, Robin Hook, Richard the Lion-Hearted and D'Artagnon and his Muskateer mates was great fun.

Things actually got better in the third book when The Pimpernel Plot retold the tale of The Scarlet Pimpernel, a book I have NEVER read. It was all fresh. Thus, I could forgive the continued use of the same backstory grafted onto the old classic. The Pimpernel was arguably the world's first book about a Batman-like super-hero. I believe it predates Zorro. At any rate, I'm going to read the original someday. It's about a yard deep in the reading pile. But it's there.

The same new exposure to an old classic happened with the forth book, The Zenda Connection, obviously a re-telling of The Prisoner of Zenda. That one I HAD 'read' as a comic. One of the old Classics Illustrated, if I'm not mistaken. So I knew the basic plot. Thus, there was a lot less wonder as I read this book. The introduction of Drakov, the illegimate and angry son of the commander of Temporal Intelligence Agency, seemed forced and uninteresting. When I started the fifth book, The Nautilus Sanction, and saw Drakov was back for more mirthless mayhem, I decided I could wait for awhile before continuing.

I think these stories would be a great one-at-a-time fallback for when you need something familiar and different all at the same time. We all know most of the stories Hawke is basing the books on. It's refereshing to get different point of views and the puzzles are, for the most part, entertaining. It's the constraints of knowing the outcome that makes them so. The old time periods are not overly romanticized and you do get a growing affection for Finn and, to a certain extent, out of time Andre. Lucas tends to be more of the cliched leader in training.

All in all, I would recommend the Time Wars series. Now for you, in the future for me.