Thursday, January 31, 2008

BOOKS: Chapters in books

I'm finishing off my stash of Lee Goldberg novel tie-ins right now, having read the last Diagnosis Murder novel during Christmas and working my way through the Monk novels from my last birthday. Goldberg also wrote television episodes for the two series, and his knowledge and ease with the characters shines through. If you like the shows, the books are actually better.

One aspect of Goldberg's writing that I really, really like is his decision to write in short chapters, rather than combining many scenes into one long chapter. It matches my reading needs perfectly. I read, mostly in bed, just before turning out the lights and calling it a night. (when the power doesn't do that for me, see below)

Depending on the book, when I started reading and how tired I am, I can get in 10 minutes to six hours of reading. I like to start and end on a chapter, so that the bookmark I use, doesn't have to be carefully arranged not to take off any ink. I use the Post-It Markers, the little inch-long tabs. They don't fall out of the book no matter how hard you shake them, and go onto the back cover to show I've read the book when finished. Yes, occasionally I forgot I read a particular book, if it has been awhile. Checking the back cover eliminates wasted starts.

Goldberg writes chapters as short as two pages, and I don't think I've seen one longer than ten pages at this point. Which means, I can 'read just one more chapter,' as I tell myself during particularly interesting passages. And when I get really tired or my interest wanes a bit, then I'm really just a page or two from a good stopping point.

One of the reasons I developed an affinity for Jeffrey Deaver's works, especially the Lincoln Rhymes and Rune series, is he uses shorter than average chapters. Not as short as Goldberg, but quite reasonable. Deaver's The Empty Chair was the first book I ever read entirely on my hand-held computer (a palm pilot at the time). It was read in Bank lines, waiting to check out at the grocer's and while the kids were whiling away my life at the McDonald's Funland. Every time I was stuck in some nowhere place, including at clients' locations installing software, I'd pull out the PDA and get in another chapter or two. Waiting around can be fun if you have a good book to read.

The antithesis of short chapters are the books where the author wants desperately to set some sort of record in chapter length. I remember slaving away through the first Weapons of Choice book by John Birmingham wondering WHEN the chapter I was reading would end and I could go to sleep. I still wonder at how I worked my way through the first third of the book to discover a great book did, indeed, hide between the covers. That said, there was an even worse experience just ahead for me.

I had waited for the publication of We Few by David Weber and John Ringo for a long time. It was the fourth book in the Prince Roger series that had started so brilliantly with the threesome of March books. I had read them during the great Blackout we had a few years back. I pre-ordered the book for electronic delivery, not wanting to waste even the time to go to the store to buy a hard copy version. I got the email the book was ready for downloading late one night.

As the book unfolded, I found to my horror that this was not much like the preceding books in the series, but more in the lines of Robert Asprin's Phule's Company books. I was devastated. But I read on, thinking I would just get to the end of the first chapter and put it aside to finish another time. As you've probably guessed, the chapter's end NEVER came. I read for about an hour, surprised I could even keep my eyes open. I finally gave into sleep and turned the computer off.

I did finish the book a day or two later. Weber and Ringo are good writers and I got around to accepting that they were writing a new series with old characters, rather than the long-wanted (by me) fourth book in the original trilogy. Once I accepted that and recognized that there were not going to be any chapter breaks, I sailed through the book.

Sure would have been easier with short chapters, though.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

LIFE: Beep, Beep, Beep

I was planning an early turn-in this morning and had basically left the office to do some reading before finally turning off the lights. It was 4:03 AM when I reached for the lamp to turn it off and call it a night. Before I could turn the light switch, the light went off. And so did everything else in the house. The power was off. And the UPS's around the house were beeping up a storm.

All eight of them.

I have two in my room, one for a computer, the other for the TV and video playback systems. There are four in the office, with each computer getting its own, plus the video recording systems. And there are two downstairs, one on the TV and video system and the other with the main telephone answering system. All beep, all on different schedules. It gets noisy. And, although I've been known to nod off in the middle of a raucous party next door, I can't do it with those infernal beeps.

After waiting a minute or two for the power to come back on, I roused myself to make the grand tour. I deep-sixed the UPS's in my room. But I couldn't touch the ones in the office next door, since the main computer and the DVD recorder were both doing some work, and the second computer was backing up to the third computer. No touching allowed. Down the stairs I stumbled. The phone UPS was already dead at this point, holding up for barely five minutes. It is a cheap battery box, basically designed to get past brownouts and quickie power outages. I turned off the video systems UPS and considered my options. I can't sleep with beeps, and the office beeps would drive me to extraction. I was sleepy. The couch in the living room beckoned. So I went to sleep there. For about three hours.

It was also the coldest night of the year, probably being the reason I was sans power. I got cold on the couch. Back to my bed, I went, hoping for some residual heat to be congregating up there on the second floor. The beeping in the office had stopped hours ago. But it was cold. So, I reached for the thin baby blanket I keep in the closet for this kind of emergency.

I normally can't sleep with any sheets or blankets on the bed. Stacks of books, piles of clothes? Yes. But anything to wrap myself up in? No. Can't handle it. Feels like I'm strangling. And perish the thought if my feet slip out and into the cold. Drives me crazy to have different parts of my body with different temperatures. But it was too cold to go sans SOME sort of blanket. At least the baby blanket is about as thin as a regular sheet. It's the closest to a passable cocoon as I can take. I managed to get a couple more hours of sleep in before the power finally came back on around 10 AM.

So, what have I learned? I'm thinking of buying a power generator. Something under a grand. Just to power me through these mini-ice ages. Somebody will have to help me, since this is one of those mechanical things. I don't think it will be "plug in and play" technology. I'm also going to find UPS that allow you to disengage the beep either permanently or with the push of a button.

Otherwise, I'll have to get cranky again some day. Beep, Beep, Beep!

Monday, January 28, 2008

FOOD: You Get What You Paid For

Many a moon ago, my brother was with Giorgio Armani's Canadian operations. He was at the time, probably the best window-dresser for the chain, amongst the various things he did for Armani. As a counterpoint, I wear schlumpy jeans, sneakers, white socks, a T-Shirt and a dilapadated ball cap almost all of the time. Different worlds.

Well, Rick gave me an Armani T-Shirt. A $120 T-Shirt. My T-Shirts, at the time, probably were worth five bucks apiece, on average. This was basically a month's worth of clothing in one small birthday present box.

And by gawd, the shirt was worth every penny. It was big, roomy and weighed a little less than air. It became my favourite bridge tournament shirt for big events because it was literally like wearing nothing at all, but yet being able to claim I was dressed in Armani for the event. Perfect. I still have it and I trot it out on nights where I can't be fidgeting with my clothes.

Which brings me to what triggered the memory today. Whilst out shopping, I ended up stopping in two grocery stores, since the first didn't have the lactose-free milk I drink. (Great invention, lactose-free milk. Weeks-long shelf-life and doesn't trigger the milk allergy I developed late in life).

At any rate, I got some Fuji Apples at the first store, buying organic ones for $2.59 a pound. I bought eight. Earlier this month, I had bought them at a third grocer for $1.49 a pound. That was a 20 cent premium per pound over the other apples for sale there, but I thought it was worth it.

After finding the milk missing, I had to stop at the local grocer, which occupied the far end of the mall from the drug store where I was picking up my pills. They had Fuji's on for 59 CENTS a pound!!! "How could that be?" I asked the Oriental chap who owns the place. "We got a deal," he said.

So, I bought four. My disbelief wouldn't let me buy more.

Snack time tonight and I first tried one of the organic beauties. Rapture. The taste was otherworldly. You simply MUST avail yourself of these heavenly treats. Then I tried a cut-rate Fuji from the nearby grocer. I imagine there must be some boxed wine-Lafitte Rothschild comparison you'd understand here. But there is one even better evaluative statement.

You get what you paid for.

LIFE: The New Teller

I actually like my bank. But no bank is perfect.

Left the cave today due to a need to fill some prescriptions, collect some cheques and deposit said cheques into my account to pay some forthcoming bills. I wondered into the bank mid to late afternoon to see a moderately-sized line and only one familiar teller doing business. Unfortunately, the vagaries of chance denied me the familiar, as one of the newbies further on down the row beckoned me over.

I had two cheques totaling a few thousand dollars. I wanted to deposit most of the money, keeping out a few hundred for February operating expenses. I was headed from the bank to pay my communications bills, pick up the medicine I needed and to restock the larder. "I want to deposit all of this but for XXXX dollars."

Like all nice new tellers, she then took forever to process this complicated request. I had to even tell her that I needed to sign the cheques since I would be receiving money back from them. She smiled, probably thanking whoever she thanks, that she had a nice patient customer who actually knew more about her job than she did. I watched her poke at the keyboard. At one point, she took the cheques and the money-back slip over to the experienced teller. She pointed at me and I grinned back as she got affirmation from her fellow worker that I indeed, banked here and frequently deposited and took back sizable sums of money. She came back and then asked me a disappointing question.

"How much did you want to take out?"

Internally, the pressure sensor hit explode. But I quickly realized I had forgotten to be VERY explicit with the young lady. "No, you were supposed to make one transaction, just the amount I wanted deposited from the cheques. If you do it the way you obviously have, then it's two transactions and I get charged a buck per transaction."

The look of panic on her face was quite real. Looking for experienced help was fruitless. The experienced one was in the vault. She leaned over and asked another pup for some help (pup-perpetually uninformed personnel). He looked and acted about two days more experienced. I silently laughed as he 'took over,' and informed me that it was too late to do what I wanted now, but that he would "personally" see to it that the service charge would be reversed in two days time, when the month-end charges would be applied. "Automatically or manually?" I asked, knowing the answer.

He didn't. Off he went to find out. "Next time you're in, just see me or the lady here and we will take care of it." Sure. By the time I come in next, there will be two more pups awaiting me.

I'll throw away a hundred bucks on bridge books at a tournament and not think twice about it. My bank, already one of the half-dozen richest corporations in the country, tries to stiff me for a buck, I take umbrage. I will lose sleep on the night of January 31/February 1. Bright and early on Friday morning, I will be calling the bank demanding the charge be reversed. It's the principle of the thing.

And the next time I see pups at the teller window, I'll START with the education. And probably a smile.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

BOOKS: Retrieval Artist vs Recovery Man

One of the other Christmas reads was the latest Retrieval Artist book by K.K. Rusch. The RA books are science fiction mysteries, centering around the talents of Miles Flint, a computer expert and one-time cop, who suffered the tragic loss of a daughter at the hands of a children's worker. That led to a divorce and his eventual movement from police work into private practice as a Retrieval Artist.

Explaining what a Retrieval Artist is would take several books to do properly. Say the prior volumes in this series. All are uniformly high in quality, that rare series that maintains a top level of quality even after the initial idea has petered out. Flint finds (and occasionally loses) people for a living, in a future where various laws from various species make staying strictly legal at times close to impossible.

The latest, Recovery Man, brings in a new level of a private detective. Recovery men are like Remora, useful to some degree, but basically ineffectual without a big bad shark around. They pick up the work RA's won't or can't. The Recovery Man in this book gets involved with Flint's ex-wife and her daughter.

Yep, her daughter. And maybe Flint's too. Well, at least a clone, it appears. The book eventually becomes young Talia Shindo's tale, and it's a harrowingly interesting one. BUT, and there had to be a but, it's a book you can't enjoy without reading the earlier books in the series. There's no understanding Miles' actions at the end unless you do.

So read the five other books in order before taking in this one. You'll enjoy the experience and be ready for the next book in the series, which undoubtedly will see Talia become a major part of Miles' life.

TV: There's Hope After Primeval 3

A bad-ass animal from the past shows up near an amusement park. Professor Cutter and the crew are off to check it out. Even cut-up Connor is given keys to the gun case. Naturally, he ends up with a REAL gun while the rest are carrying dart guns. But it's a step up. I'll let it pass that Connor loses said gun privileges in a 'Jaws' scene rip-off.

There are fewer logical inconsistencies in this episode, although the animal's protector should have been obvious long before it occurred to the team. And having Cutter leave HIS gun behind while investigating the lair, so that it could be used against him is once again, three stooges level stupidity. Having him outwit the beast twice in a head-to-head showdown was simply unbelievable.

The new tactic of having a shock twist, revealing a hidden threat at the end, has worn out its welcome after back-to-back weeks.

But at least there's been enough improvement to keep on viewing. I hope the Creature from the Black Lagoon homage next week is yet another step up the intelligence ladder.

HOCKEY: Much Ado About Less Than Nothing

Well, THAT was a letdown. Better the NHL play tapes of the Steve Stamkos/John Tavares Major Junior showdown than let six major NHL stars let the steam completely out of the All-Star Skills Competition finale.

It was awful, with only Alexander Ovechkin (my pre-comp prediction to win) and Ryan Getzlaf making much of a real effort to win the thing. Ovechkin wanted to do the Crosby elevate and swing maneuver, but that only after bookending his two attempts to do so with relatively run of the mill scoring moves. Getzlaf tried a skate pass move first and then admitted to having "run out of ideas." Given the two finalists were going to take four shots apiece, having ONE move might be seen as not giving a hoot about the event.

Pavel Datsyuk, the favourite in some eyes, simply skated in and made a deke and shot. Pitiful entertainment value. Ilya Kovalchuk was just as bad and should have been embarrassed to have former teammate Scott Mellanby boost his scores in as obvious a case of home-town scoring as is possible.

An obvious deterrent to the event's success was letting the goalies come out and poke check the attacker while he was setting up for something. In the future, if they do this again, goalies have to keep a foot in the crease. Nobody's going to shoot from 25 feet away. There's no need for them to be out cutting down the angles ... and the action.

And lastly, John Shannon and the poobahs at the NHL network division, continue to believe that having a camera follow a skater in on a shootout attempt is good TV. It's NOT, you morons. The best principal shot is from behind the goalie. The high centre shot is certainly adequate too. No matter the quality of the steadi-cam nor the abilities of the cameraman, the traveling shot is close to useless. New isn't better. It's just friggin' new.

So much for any goodwill.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

HOCKEY: Artistry on Display

Having been out of action, writing-wise, for the past 11 days for reasons discussed in the last post of the day (technically the first, but you will get there last), I decided to sit down and write 11 entries in the blog today. Feel free to skip. Not everything will interest you. As Linda Ellerbee says, "And so it goes."

The NHL wants desperately to be loved by Americans. We Canadians would like that too, but I've come to the conclusion that it's just not possible. Still, the NHL is to be applauded for trying tonight's tricks-inspired shootout. The goalies will hate it (Luongo and Brodeur being smart enough to demur from attending). But the skaters will have the chance to show their mad stick skills. And that can't be bad.

I know Pavel Datsyuk is the favourite now that Sidney Crosby can't participate. But my pick here is Alexander Ovechkin. Whatever the outcome, there will be many new YouTube videos by this time Sunday.

Now on with the rest of the day's verbiage.

BOOKS: A Ringworld Successor

Larry Niven's Ringworld is a science fiction classic. It's generated two sequels over the last two decades and each has been fine in an of themselves. Good writing around a great concept. Ringworld is a construct. It's many thousands of worlds smashed together until they form a colossal ring around some far-off sun. The sheer enormity of the land mass allows for many civilizations and races to inhabit the same spatial body, but be completely unaware of each other. Or in some cases, be all TOO aware of each other. Crash-land a Terran or two on it, and Ringworld offers an exciting milieu for a travel adventure. Three times.

So, how do you play Top That! with Ringworld. There's the myriad of shell world stories with the sun contained in the middle. Dime a dozen. Hmmmm, any other ideas?

Eric Brown has one. It's called Helix. As a character demonstrates in the book, you take a glass lamp and a long beaded necklace. You coil the necklace around the lamp, starting at the bottom until you reach the top. And you have a helix shape.

Helix, the novel, features a set of Builders who take the Ringworld idea and expand on it, in many strands. Each little worldlet rotates on its helical centre, giving the worldlet a night and day. Each worldlet is separated from its neighbour by an ocean. Difficult, but not impossible to cross. Then the builders went out and populated the worldlets with as many samples of various races and species as they could find. Aliens from cold-weather worlds were put on worldlets at the top or the bottom of the helix. Hot-weather folk ended up on the central strands, nearest the sun centre. Some of the worldlets got specialized climates, such as the grey overcast that permeates over the world where Ehrin Telsa lives under Church tyranny.

Ehrin's not human. He's sort of a sentient rat/weasel/lemur. He's a non-believer and seeks proof the organized religion in his world is wrong and outdated. He hooks up with some Humans who have fled Earth in a cryo-ship, anxious to leave a worn-torn, material-sapped home planet behind and start anew somewhere else in the galaxy. A thousand years of cold-sleep has set the humans down on Helix. Four intrepid Terrans start exploring this wondrous world and finally happen upon Ehrin.

While plenty happens before Ehrin and the humans meet up, enough to really come to like all of the characters, the book really heats up from that point on. Helix is explored by a multi-species exploratory force as various worldlets are found and searched as a potential new home for humanity. Good and bad beings are met. The good ones are genuinely altruistic. The bad ones evil to the core. It's tiresome to present a Church as a bad thing these days, but Brown makes it work.

And when we get to the conclusion 500 some pages later, we are happy. I hope there are going to be sequels to Helix. But I implore Mr. Brown to do it a little faster than did Mr. Niven. I'm not sure I can wait 20 more years!

BOOKS: Tim Maleeny

I had a GREAT Christmas reading period. I got the latest from John Sandford and Clive Cussler, both initial books in new series (I hope). They were both better than average. I got the comic adaption of the first Artemis Fowl book by Eoin Colfer. It was a great re-read, pictures and all. Series books from William Dietz and Lee Goldberg were enjoyed.

And I discovered some new authors. I'm most excited about Tim Maleeny, who's penning the Cape Weathers detective books. Weathers is a private investigator working in San Francisco. It's familiar territory (not the least being the setting of Cussler's The Chase, albeit the 1907 era Golden Gate city). And bluntly, Cape is a bit generic in terms of characters within the genre. The book packager recognized that. The cover of the first in the series, Stealing the Dragon, only shows his working partner on the cover. So does the second, Beating the Babushka.

Sally is interesting. She's a lesbian. And she's been trained as a Triad assassin since childhood. Now THAT is a great character description. Beats former cop turned detective completely.

Stealing the Dragon is not perfect. It's a first novel and there are flaws. Saw some things coming a mile away. But on the whole it's fairly entertaining. For most of the book, it follows two narratives. The first is modern day San Francisco where a ship transporting illegals from China runs aground on Alcatraz. Weathers becomes involved and has to handle it mostly single-handedly, since Sally is missing.

The other story-line is that of Sally, starting with her becoming an orphan due to murder. She arrives in a Triad school and becomes the best of the best the training can create. This is the story-line that is the real page-turner. Although I did find myself speed-reading through the modern-day parts to get back to the Sally story.

In the end, the last quarter or so, the story-lines coalesce into a pretty flashy finish. Somebody else described it as Dashiell Hammett by way of way of Jerry Bruckheimer. The Hammett comparison rates as a little glorifying, but the Bruckheimer part is bang on.

Haven't read the Russian Mafiya-inspired second book. But it promises more Sally. And that is a good thing. July's reading week can't come soon enough.

LIFE: I Had the Urge to Murder Again

The phone rings. I'm enjoying the last few minutes of dreamy slumber or a much-needed afternoon nap. The Oriental-sounding voice on the other end asks, "Is Mister Gary there?" I feel the urge to get up, get dressed, fly to Vancouver BC, hunt down the owners of the Canadian Gift Centre and shoot them all. And their little dogs too.

I don't believe in guns, hate to fly, and tend not to go out at this time of the year. So the people connected with this bothersome nuisance need not get a protection order and bodyguards to protect themselves from me. But ....

The first phone call I got from this concern came during my little bout with the flu. The caller told me I had a certificate. I told him I wasn't interested. He called back. I screamed at him. That should have been the end of it. It wasn't. Today's afternoon nap was ended by a familiar voice after answering that annoying ring. Once again, Mr. Gary was asked for. He got as far as identifying the concern. I hung up. Phone rang again. I screamed I wasn't interested and hung up. It's been silent since. The urge has passed. The need to rant hasn't.

Canada does not have a DO NOT CALL list, yet. It's supposed to happen this year. Since I occasionally fantasize about solitary confinement in prison affording me all the time I need to read, it can't happen soon enough.

Unwanted phone calls fall into three categories: scammers, charities and service cold-callers. I spent a week doing the second type. I knew what I was doing and knew I was doing wrong. I stopped doing it. It's for that reason I have less patience with people who take on these woefully underpaid, soul-crushing jobs. Find something else. Anything else. You will benefit.

The scammer I want most desperately to have found and shut down now is the group who calls, informing me that I, or a member of my family, have filled out a travel survey and I have now won a prize or a free trip. That phone call ends quickly too, usually with a curse. First, I don't travel. I LIKE my home, with its constant 72 degree temperature year round, lots of entertainment handy and a perfectly designed commode for my reading needs. It's quiet, too. Why would I want to leave it? As for family members filling out a travel survey on my behalf? None live closer than 40 minutes away. My extended family knows exactly how I feel about travel and would no sooner co-operate with one of these surveys than they would put a wet finger into an electrical socket. They'd know I would force them to do such a thing as punishment. So, these folks are LYING blatantly with the first words out of their mouths. They don't deserve civility beyond not letting loose with a whole string of curses as I hang up the phone.

But they HAVE had one other lasting effect. I now no longer participate in opinion polls. You know the ones. They show up on the evening news as "According to XXXXXX, 82 per cent of Canadians now feel the CRTC should speed up the development of the DO NOT CALL List." Can't give the creeps with the free trips the benefit of the doubt.

BASEBALL: JP's a Better Man than Me

I'm not a good man. I hold grudges. Decade-long grudges. And I have absolutely no problem admitting, nor admitting that it isn't my best trait.

Apparently, JP Ricciardi forgives and forgets. He signed Rod Barajas to a contract to backup Gregg Zaun as catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. This is the same Barajas who reneged on a signed commitment last year to REPLACE Zaun as the regular every-day catcher for the Blue Jays. He ended up signing for less annually with the Phillies, something I derived some small satisfaction from last year. It got better. He had a horrible year. Now he's collecting chump change to carry a game or two a week workload while one of my favourite Blue Jays starts ahead of him.

Frankly, when Barajas changed agents last year and the new guy reneged on the deal, I would have seen the last of the former Texas starter. No bygones for me. But in this aspect, JP's a better a man than me. I still think he's a very flawed GM. I think he's a fast talker who's only ever displayed a talent for acquiring servicable middle infielders (although it's more by quantity than quality) and flim-flamming his bosses. He's now in the seventh year of a five-year plan (remember, it was originally a three-year plan built around getting rid of Carlos Delgado). He's drafted abysmally and traded for more injury-prone players than his predecessor Gord Ash ever did. He's ripped the heart out of John McDonald by signing David Eckstein. And that wasn't the first time he did that. He doesn't live in T.O. and there isn't anybody in baseball who doesn't think he'd bail on the Blue Jays for a Boston Red Sox job in a heartbeat.

But he's a better man than I.

TV: Primeval Disbelief

Okay, half-way home trying to make up for my flu-caused absence.

I railed against the British science fiction series Primeval's debut show for the second series. It was a mess of logical inconsistencies and sloppy editing. It took the strong promise of the last scene of last season's series one and punted it, badly.

Soooo, how did the second show do? Not much better, I fear. We still have team members sauntering up the stairs to do battle with prehistoric problems without benefit of any equipment. Lucy Brown's character, Jenny (aka Claudia in the OTHER reality), almost plays the lunacy up, by joining the battle with the fog worms, deeming it unnecessary to walk up the safe stair wells when she could take the dangerous elevators in her high heels. Her later precise use of a samurai sword was ...

Okay, there were some funny moments. They actors SEEM to know they are acting foolishly in a supposedly smart series.

The Professor's wife makes a reappearance. She had to be a different one than last year, since she not only somehow ends up in Stephen Hart's bed, but sticks around for an anonymous peeping Tina moment at the end. If she was last year's model, she would be back in that other reality, the one where Jenny is an unmarried Claudia, and very much in love with her husband, the Professor. Don't think the divorce is final in either place.

All in all, this is one more stinker of a show away from not being worth the 49 minutes to watch it.

I want it to be better. That might not be enough.

HOCKEY: The Last Days of Sundin

As a Montreal Canadiens' fan, I should take delight in the ongoing disaster that is the Toronto Maple Leafs, beloved by both my father and brother Wayne. But schadenfreude gets old really quickly and I admit to a touch of actual pity dating back to the early 90's. About the time the Buds acquired Mats Sundin.

Despite the radio neaderthals hating Sundin on principle (he cost Wendell Clark), the fact is Sundin is and has been a great player for the Maple Leafs, daily far better than Wendell was on his best day. Now, he doesn't throw earth-shattering checks a la Clark, but anybody who's watched him bull out in front of the net from behind can't claim he's not physical. He has been durable in the main and he's played at a high level, without complaint and without complementary players for most of his time as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Outside of a fading Alexander Mogilny and on-the-downside talents like Gary Roberts and Steve Thomas, Sundin has carried water-carriers at his side throughout. And he's the LEADING SCORER in Maple Leaf HISTORY!

When not forced to play with local lads, Sundin has shown his true stripes. On Swedish teams that have won gold at the Olympics, the World Championships and various other competitions, Sundin has consistently been the best player on those teams. Not Forsberg or Alfredsson. Not Lidstrom. Sundin has been the top crown in the Tre Kronor. And he has done that with as little fanfare as possible.

If leading by example is a staple of a great captain, then Sundin stands below no one on the level of Toronto captains. Others might have Stanley Cups, but their teammates were better.

But now, it has come time for Sundin to do one final thing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He must agree to a trade to allow them to kickstart the rebuilding process that will last until well into Sundin's retirement. And beyond the end of this season, he must NOT RETURN to a final season or two as a Maple Leaf/Late Season Trading Chip. He's good enough to drag almost any collection of third and fourth line players into mediocrity and play-off contention. That is how good the bald Swede is.

No, the right thing is for Sundin to find the right team to boost to a Stanley Cup and then try for a second Cup like John Elway went back for one more Super Bowl. Then, it should be back to Sweden for the greatest Leaf of the 21st century. He goes with the thanks of hockey fans. Maple Leaf fans too.

TV: The best show of 2007

If you watch American TV, the best show of 2007 was either Dexter or Mad Men, depending on the critic. Both are fine shows with my preference being Dexter, which might not be the best kind of admission to make.

But neither was amongst the two best shows of 2007. The second-best show of 2007 was the second series of the British show, Life on Mars. John Simm's tour-de-force is not science fiction. Not really. The title comes from a David Bowie song that is playing when Simm's detective character gets shot and wakes up 30 years ago. Okay, that's SF, but it's almost covered by the ongoing question of whether Simm has indeed been comported to the past, or is just having one humdinger of a dream/nightmare. Whatever the transport mechanism, playing a 70's cop with 21st century sensibilities and memories proves a daunting task. He's aided by Philip Glenister's morally-ambivalent top cop and lone lady cop Annie Cartwright played winningly by Liz White. There's a shop specializing in British imports in Mississauga's Square One. Both seasons of Life on Mars are excellent. The American remake, with David Kelley at the helm, will eventually grace our TV's. But find the original.

Oddly enough, Simm and Glenister had worked together in 2003 in the first series of State of Play. Glenister is still a tough-talking policeman, while Simm is a crusading journalist. I had the first episode kicking around for months before seeing it during Christmas. I've been searching for the full series since then. That first episode ended so shockingly, I was completely thrown. Might be as good a debut episode as I have ever seen. I hope to complete the review in the future.

Now, what were we talking about? Yeah, right. the BEST show of the past year. Not even close. Jekyll. Another British series. This latest play on the Jekyll and Hyde plot has James Nesbitt doing amazing things physically to show two personalities living inside one body. He's a doting father of two, Dr. Tom Jackman by day, a lecherous psychopath nicknamed Mr. Hyde by night. Tom does battle with his evil side with the help of a surprisingly good Michelle Ryan, who shows none of the lacklustre ability tormenting her turn as the Bionic Woman.

It's tempting to say this is Nesbitt starring in the spotlight by himself. He's certainly capable. I have seen the pilot for the Murphy's Law series and have the full first year to watch. But that show certainly shows Nesbitt's acting chops. So his performance, as good as it is in Jekyll, is almost confirmatory rather than revealing. No, the spice that makes this such a superlative entertainment is Jackman's wife, a role played with confidence by Gina Bellman. She grows during the six episodes of the series to the point where she gleefully refers to the nasty Hyde personality as "MY HUSBAND!" And you believe her!

Everybody who I shared this series with shared my viewing patterns. I watched the first episode one night, the second a night later and then the concluding four episodes in one session on the third night. A session that went later than it should have. But I couldn't turn the TV off. It was like the story was good enough to watch on back-to-back-to-back nights, but TOO good not to finish that third night, sleep and the next day's work be damned. It was that good.

There is a shock twist at the end that I really didn't see coming, although others did. And there is talk of a second series being at least in the planning stages. I'd rather not see a redux of series one's dalliances with Mr. Hyde. That leaves the two tots to grow into the divergent roles or better yet, a turn for the worst by Mrs. Jackman. I think Bellman would be up for it. Good Claire was finding Strong Claire at the end of the first series anyway. With her real background, it might not be too much of a stretch for Strong Claire to find Bad Claire appetizing.

We can only hope.

FOOD: Fuji Apples

Just before Christmas, I was shopping at a store and thought I'd look at something other than Golden Delicious to meet my daily apple intake requirement. I've been eating an apple a day since my little bout of not being able to keep meals down (combined with the odd seconds-long bout of not being able to breathe). Green apples seem to help the digestion process. It seems to have helped me.

But the semi-tart GD apples of the fall seemed to get blander and blander as Christmas approached. I grabbed some Granny Smith and I happened upon a stash of Fuji apples in the organic aisle. They weren't cheap, but I grabbed three. Also took home a bag of GD apples, since the plans were to stay in the cave until well into the New Year.

Two nights later, I cut open the first of the Fuji's and immediately felt deflated. The core seemed rotten. Around the actual core was a pallid pale 'secondary' core, the rest of the flesh being a sort of off-white, almost yellowish. I shaved off a slice to test if it was bad.


I quickly finished coring and then cut the apple up into slices. As my mother taught me, I tossed the slices with a little salt (doesn't everybody?) and hoovered them up. And then I ate the second of the three apples. I kept the third as a Christmas Day present to myself. It took a lot of self-control. I also phoned Patrick's wife Dawna and suggested she might do herself a great flavour favour by getting Fuji's on her next visit to the grocer. I babbled a lot. She indulged me. I selfishly hope she doesn't get the apples for her brood.

I want them all to myself.

How do the Fuji apples taste? A honeyed McIntosh? Close as I can get. The apples have been chosen to become the sole basis for a drink called Fuji 2.0 that is very popular. These are juicy apples. I eat them without aid of any drink whatsoever. It's just a great dining experience. They are even good snacks. Trust the potato chip king, they are worth switching from Hostess and Lay's Chips!

As long as you don't diminish MY buying horde.

TV: There's something unsmelly

My time the past fortnight has been spent in sleep, drinking dinner and watching television through half-closed eyes. I don't watch much live TV normally, other than sports, but that was enough to have one of my pet peeve commercials come up on the screen. Any home-cooked pizza commercial that plays on a theme of surprise by somebody that it ISN'T delivery pizza bugs me no end. This one featured hockey greats Luc Robitaille and Marty Brodeur.

What does it say about the pizza in question that it LITERALLY DOES NOT SMELL when it bakes away in the oven? Heating meat, cheese and puff pastry SHOULD produce a smell. I personally don't eat pizza, but I damn well know when it's cooking in the next room.

But somehow, Brodeur is totally oblivious to the smells emanating from the kitchen and just assumes Luc answered the door and paid the delivery guy in literally a blink of the eye. Of course it's just an oversight by this commercial and every other repeating of the same plot. They ALL assume their customers are IDIOTS!

Well, here's one customer who occasionally serves pizza to hungry Movie Mob members (I eat french fries). With each company that insults my intelligence with this stupid plot of a commercial, I cross off another maker of home pies. The list of ones who HAVEN'T ticked me off is getting vanishingly small. Sooner or later, the Mob will have to eat cake or the pizza makers will have to get smart. Wonder which will happen first?

UPDATE: How I avoided my Colonoscopy

Let's see, I've been 11 days without doing much of anything to talk about. When last we convened here at Mug Shots, I was fasting to be ready for a colonoscopy the next day. When I showed up at Doc Merker's office to get my dose of super-laxative, he took one look at my clammy visage and checked me out for what I knew was the truth. I had the flu. Yep, it wasn't nerves, it was the flu. The kind you avoid when you get the preemptive shots in the fall. I didn't get the shots. I got the flu. I got a pass from surgery the next day. Something about laxatives and incipient dehydration not going together. The ultimate excuse slip, the doctor's note! It still looms in the near-future, but I spent my time last week sleeping, instead. The sleep cycles aren't back, nor is my appetite. But I managed to get caught back up with a little programming work and I have a weekend to get caught up here. I'm going to try with a bunch of mini-posts.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SPORTS: New Jay Third-Sacker

The Toronto Blue Jays introduced Scott Rolen as their new third-baseman today, replacing the player he was traded for, Troy Glaus.

The conventional wisdom thus far is this: the St. Louis Cardinals probably won this exchange of birdies. But I disagree.

Glaus has more than a few pluses. He's a good guy, great power and he's a good fielder of bunts. In fact, he's pretty good within the limited range he patrols. Did I mention he's a good teammate? But he has some downside. His average is going to hover in the Johnny McDonald-area most of the time. He's got that limited range thing and he's slower'n molasses on the basepaths.

And he's got bad feet. More of that later.

Rolen has a few pluses of his own. He's a Gold Glover who hits for average and used to have power not that long ago. His minuses include the loss of that power recently and the fact that he's left two towns (Philly and St. Loo) with some baggage. There's an honest fear that we are looking at Shea Hillenbrand redux.

And he's got a bad shoulder.

Ahhh, yes. The favourite J.P. Ricciardi kind of acquisition. Lots of talent and a history of DL visits. Like the blackjack player who keeps doubling down, the Blue Jay GM figgers sooner or later he's got to win a big one.

This could be it. Both players passed physicals but that doesn't mean much these days. It's the nature of the injuries that makes the two-year older Rolen seem a better bet to earn his $12 million this year. Rolen's operation this past fall was the removal of scar tissue from one of his umpteen left-shoulder surgeries. That's more of a clean up operation that one of repair. Docs know a lot about shoulders, elbows and knees these days. They've had a lot of practice. ANd cleaning out scar tissue is a whole lot more 'predictable' these days.

On the other foot, feet are mostly still a mystery to doctors. Bad feet on big men is a problem. Glaus is a b-i-g man, well over six feet. He had a nerve problem in his foot that has allegedly been fixed. I wish him well, but I wouldn't bet on that fact in a month of "feeling lucky" days.

When healthy, these two players are all-stars. When unhealthy, neither one earns the $12 million pay cheques (give or take) each collects. Rolen had three years of such largesse, Glaus two. Advantage St. Louis. If both succeed, advantage Toronto. If only one succeeds, which one makes their new home town cheer?

And that's where I think Rolen puts the best foot forward and bounces back from two down years under the Tony LaRussa thumb. In fact, I think I'll go out on a limb.

There will be a day this summer when Rolen lines up beside McDonald, Aaron Hill and Lyle Overbay in the game's best defensive infield. The top Jay defensive trio of Reed Johnson, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios will be manning the outfield. Roy Halladay will be on the mound that day and will throw his first career no-hitter. And Rolen will be a key part of that.

At least JP Ricciardi hopes so.

HEALTH: Save your life

I will spend Wednesday bemoaning the lack of food for most of the day, the need to get intimately acquainted with the porcelain throne for the rest of it. Seems I have to empty my system as much as possible.

I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy Thursday.

Nothing internally has prompted me to seek out this procedure, thankfully. While not a beacon of good health (or habits), I'm doing it, because of the shocking pre-Christmas news that my father had been diagnosed with colon cancer. He was operated on last week and is already at home feeling chipper and ready to use his computer again. (judge that as good or bad news by yourselves). The doctors (and I) are sure they caught it early. And the long-term life expectancy for early catches is phenomenally high. It IS manageable, if you catch it early.

However, since my dad's dad, and now, my father have gotten it, I move to the top of the list of likely candidates to continue the genetic trend. I'm overweight, don't eat enough fibre (an apple a day doesn't quite cut it) and have a myriad of other things breaking down my body. Sooooo, I go from having a colonoscopy once a decade to probably one every two years.

I'd like to complain about the procedure, but I survived my first one. I've had tubes down the throat this past year and that was actually tougher to recover from long term. And I was awake when my kidney guy examined my privates during the kidney stone attack of a few years back. At least I get to sleep through the colonoscopy.

All in all, I agree with W.C. Fields. I WOULD rather be in Philadelphia. But I'd prefer to be there alive. (Speaking of which, do a search on the internet for Merv Griffin's tombstone. My new fave epitaph)

Monday, January 14, 2008

ETHICS: Is Entertainment Entertaining No Matter the Source?

I don't agree with the point of view of everybody who runs a site I visit regularly. For example, Robert Bruce Thompson has some views on guns that I disagree with. Vehemently. Yet he writes a wonderful daily blog that I actually support with my dollars, because he writes about computers and dogs and TV and books and other things I find I agree largely with his opinion about. I like Bill Maher and his humour and share his basic political philosophy from afar, since, afterall, he spouts off about American politics and I live up here in the Great White North where we must make do with Bush-light Light in the form of Stupefying Stevie Harper. But I don't agree with Maher regarding PETA or drugs.

In both cases, I would describe holders of opinions similar to Thompson or Maher as dangerous nutcases, if I didn't know these gents' relatively global world view. Misguided would be my preferred label, since I otherwise value their entertainment and informative views. Does that seem wrong to you?

I ask this because I'm troubled by my continued visits to a weekly blog written by a well-known, award-winning SF writer, who's column is an off-shoot to a daily newspaper on the East Coast of the USA. I won't identify him, cuz he strikes me as the litigious type. I have corresponded with him, discovering in the process that he is a right-wing nutjob who worships at the discarded, soiled unmentionables of one George W. Bush. His recent fawning over the President and his dismissal of all who oppose Bush's worldview as ... well the dirty euphemism he uses is, 'liberals.' His ability to look at numbers and pull out evaluations that paint Bush as a wonderful leader is the stuff of fiction. Science Fiction.

But here's the kicker. I have enjoyed his books in the past and they stood up to a re-reading after I knew he was a kook. Does that seem wrong to you? Seems wrong to me. And worse, I go back and read his weekly column, despite the complete lack of intelligence behind the political analysis and the more than odd reference to his religious values. I tend to glance over those passages, as I do the sections he prattles on about things local in nature to his home town. That might reduce the column to complete unreadability on occasion. But mostly, I get something out of stopping by.

The guy's an idiot, but one who writes well. Is it right to extract worth from such a dubious source, or should I avoid mining the crap to harvest a few pearls of wisdom, since feeling dirty is the inevitable result of spending time with such a misguided mind? He's not the worst I've ever found myself reading (I once mistakenly bought a copy of American Max magazine). And it's not like he's a mass-murderer, although he seems to have affinity for the concept. But is HE the line I shouldn't cross when trying to maintain the moral high ground?

Tis a puzzlement I wonder if I will ever solve.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

TV: Primeval Second Season Stinker Start

I'm watching a lot of Aussie and British TV thanks to the WGA withdrawal of writing services in the States. I think the other members of the Commonwealth do quite a good job in general. One series I quite enjoyed early in 2007 was the Brit SF action thriller, Primeval. It was a monster of the week show, with said monsters coming through portals into the current time in Jolly Olde England. Doug Henshall headed the team that battled the dinosaurs and other assorted prehistorical ilk. He also had a missing wife to initially mourn over and then battle when she too showed up. All the while, he was falling in extreme like with Claudia Brown, played by Lucy Brown. It was a nice match of naive young lass with jaded old professorial type (by way of Indiana Jones). The first six-episode season concluded with Henshall's Professor Cutter emerging from a portal into the past, only to find the time-line he returned to didn't include the likeable Claudia.

Which set the stage for the second season debut this weekend. Claudia's no more than a glint in the eye of Cutter and there are a whole lot of new people hanging around a nifty HQ. A Raptor or two or three have invaded a local multi-level mall after-hours. Last season, a commando unit and our intrepid team headed by Cutter would have descended upon the mall to box up the visitors and send them back through the portal. Not this year. Cutter's team of four go in with ONE dart rifle and ONE dart pistol. Alone.

The whole thing turns into a lite version of Night at a Museum. Raptors ride elevators from within and without. They scrabble along slick linoleum with nary a problem. They let themselves get bopped on the nose by Cassius Clay Cutter like a common shark, yet the youngest of the reptile 'family' gets to use its claws to almost eviscerate one of an enumerable set of various people who are hanging around the place. A Three Stooges race that has Cutter on a motorcycle leading one nasty Raptor back into the bowels of the mall (actually, to the bowling alley), while another team member follows up, segues immediately into the Raptor chasing BOTH of them. Lithsome Hannah Spearritt won't give the comic sidekick of the team, played by Andrew Lee Potts, a gun, until she hears something in a locker room. Then hands it over so that Potts' Connor Temple can do a Bondian riff before shooting her accidentally.

When this episode of supposedly smart people acting stupidly grinds to its obvious 'shock' conclusion, I was dispirited and wondering if it was at all possible to continue watching any more shows in this series. Then I got mad and wrote this review. I am not going to give up, yet.

There is a lot of good science fictional potential in the whole Primeval setup. The portals (aka anomalies) are interesting in and of themselves. The monster of the week is the weakest point, but the characters are generally well-drawn and interesting. As long as they stay above the normal slasher-film intelligence level, it can be worthwhile. But please, let the characters be as smart as they were last year.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I have a morning routine. Part of that routine is checking out, the liberal American political site. It links to many clips from shows, saving me the time visiting each of the host sites. Friday, I clicked a video to watch and then did something REALLY STUPID. I moved the video window from my left screen to the right one (I have two monitors). Half way across the digital divide, the machine froze. Hard. A little fiddling around left me with no option but the reset button. And when the computer returned from its boot up screen, I was staring at the infamous Blue Screen of Death.

And nothing I could do, or Patrick could do, in the next 30 hours could change that fact. The C:\ drive was toast for booting purposes, although I COULD access it, if I didn't do anything high-handed like actually start Windows (XP if you have to know). Eventually, I declared it time to resort to my backup. My last backup of the C: Drive had taken place about three weeks ago. This isn't the tragedy that some of you might otherwise suspect. I do NOT install anything I can avoid doing so, onto that C: Drive. Everything is installed in an apps folder residing on D:, E:, F: or X:. Outside of an XP patching utility and programs that give me no choice, all of C: is devoted to Windows and cache files, both temporary and all-too-permanent.

Oh yah, and some settings. Hate programs that do that.

Once I recovered using the disks created in Acronis True Image, I rebooted to a very familiar screen. The cursor was something I'd tried and discarded. I had to throw it out again. And Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus was absolutely sure I was horrendously out of date in my virus signature data (twas true enough). The massive overhaul I had made in my newsgroup handler last week was gone, which is and will be a pain until I remember to do it again. And Firefox's bookmarks were back to the way they were before I made a large re-organization of them, ten days ago. Not trifling, but nothing traffic-stopping.

I was back in business. Because I'd made a backup.

Actually, I could have recovered in about 20 minutes Friday if I hadn't been so curious as to what happened and how to fix it AND how to prevent it recurring. Patrick's curiousity was similarly piqued. So, it wasn't until Saturday at the supper hour that I was back up and running.

You KNOW you should be making a backup. I know I should be making BETTER backups (and will). And yet, the majority of you reading this will smile and pray/hope you never see the Blue Screen of Death. Lotsa luck. I had more stress this weekend deciding on what to eat for supper, then I had seeing that Blue Screen of Death ... because I had a backup. You might enjoy the stress. Knowing your sole source of income and/or entertainment has gone belly up might be something you can laugh off, or enjoy coping with. If you aren't amongst that incredibly small minority, I have only one phrase for you.

Back up, NOW!