Friday, February 29, 2008

TV: Ashes to Ashes Grows Life on Mars

Half the inaugural season of Ashes to Ashes has debuted in Britain, and it's safe to say that this show is not only a worthy successor to Life on Mars, it's better.

Sort of a sequel and sort of a new show, Ashes to Ashes fixes what little there was that was wrong with Life on Mars. And oddly enough, although Keeley Hawes makes a spectacular leading lady, it turns out the connecting thread of these shows is Philip Glenister as Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt.

In fact, the two shows will now be known as the Gene Hunt saga. Glenister's Hunt was a 1970's anachronism in the two seasons of Life on Mars. A do-gooder who'd do bad to get the bad guys, he typified the kind of TV cop of the time. Loud, bullyish and quick with the quip. He led a squad of Manchester cops not too divorced from the strike team on The Shield. But his boys were basically morons with badges, leaving him as the brains of the outfit. John Simm's Sam Tyler, a cop from the 21st century, was injected into the setup and a clash of styles became inevitable and inevitably entertaining.

Cut to this season. Detective Alex Drake, well familiar with Tyler's case, suffers the same fate as Tyler. She is shot. She wakes up in the past. This time in 1980's London. To her surprise, and our delight, she meets up with three figments (?) of Tyler's imagination. DCI Hunt, and two of the loopiest of his squadron, the cops played by Dean Andrews and Marshall Lancaster. Of the two, Lancaster's Chris Skelton is the slightly more evolved. But barely. On the other hand, Hunt seems to have mastered some levels of self-control.

Unless it's at the wheels of a car, which is driven around town like the old Starsky and Hutch vehicle.

At any rate, Drake's either clinging to life in a hospital room and dreaming up Hunt and Company, or we have another case of time travel. Same premise, but waaaaaay different execution.

Undoubtedly, Drake looks better in a tight 80's era pair of blue jeans, or a mini-skirt, for that matter. She favours off-the-shoulder tops and a white leather jacket. Her hair is a friz of brown curls and her expressive eyes came at you from blue-shadowed lids. And underneath all of that is Zoey from the first few seasons of Spooks.

Keeley Hawes, is indeed, a bit of a chameleon. It took me TWO full episodes before I realized knockout Alex and mousy little Zoey were played by the same actress. Hawes just exhudes sexual energy in this show, and a good part of the charm of the show is figuring out when (and what will ensue) when she and Glenister's Hunt finally clinch and kiss. For the time, they've been doing the Sam and Diane act, coming close in each of the last two episodes, despite the abhorrence she holds for Hunt's tactics.

The other bit that makes this show better is a reduction of the amount of the show given to Drake's fevered dreams, starring her daughter and a clown (the one made famous by David Bowie). Tyler would consume ten minutes of a fifty-minute episode with fevered attempts to communicate with the now. That's significantly cut in Ashes to Ashes, for the better. We GET it, we don't have to be hit over the head with it. There's also the thread running through were Alex KNOWS she's in a dream, and can do and say things, knowing it's all imaginary.

Naturally, like Sam Tyler, Alex Drake tries to re-connect with her parents, given the opportunity. In fact, we know her parents are doomed to die in a car-bomb. Can the past be changed? Can Alex survive finding out her parents were not paragons of virtue, the same fate having just befallen her godfather? Just how incestuous would it be to kiss said godfather, BEFORE he becomes your godfather? These are all stories to be told in the next month.

Ashes to Ashes is certainly worthy of a multi-year run. It does point out just how horrible fashions were back then. It was also the start of the Computer Age. It's interesting in retrospect, despite the music. And I could watch Keeley Hawes play Alex Drake for a l-o-o-o-n-g time. But word has come down that Glenister figures this is the last decade to watch Hunt flounder around in. He wants to be killed off, ere they come up with yet a third shooting victim to watch him dodder around in the 1990's. That presages no more than another season of Ashes to Ashes, let alone a third series.

But I'm already imagining Hunt as a retired copper turned private detective. I guess it'd have to be a kid going back in time. The mind wanders ...

SPORTS: The Big Bald Swede... Again!

So, Mats Sundin doesn't want to play for any other team, save for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last weekend's news? Nope. It's the lead story on sports broadcasts again, today.

Sundin said he'll play for Toronto next year or nobody. This is news? Well, to those who thought his rationale that he wanted to be with a team all year long in the quest for the Stanley Cup, rather than becoming a 'rental,' meant he'd consider going somewhere else this coming fall. But those people ignored the other words he said when he announced his decision NOT to waive his no-trade catalog.

He spoke of his relationship with the players and citizens here in the greater T.O. area. He didn't say the word love, but one gets the idea that Sundin isn't exactly a big-time orator. A big-time hockey player, but not a big-time talker. He felt leaving would be abandoning his ship before it completely went down, and that there was no such thing as a safe harbour, Stanley Cup chances be damned.

In other words, Sundin did everything a captain should. He led by personal example by being the best player on the team (and not being the best paid). He showed strength of character and interest in team goals over personal gain. And he got pilloried for it by the all-knowing (about nothing) Toronto fans.

I posted right here that he should have accepted a trade and gone somewhere else to win the Stanley Cup most hockey players want. And I told him not to come back, for his own good and for the needs of this team to hit rock-bottom, something that wouldn't happen to the team that could play Sundin 20 minutes a game. He is too good. But there's something noble about a player that says, with all honesty, that he wants to retire a Maple Leaf.

Now, the same maroons who decried his lack of a Wendell Clark type game over the years, call him selfish. No way the team should let him come back next season. If he does, he has to come on the Leaf terms, which would not include a no-trade clause. And he should take a big pay cut so the club can go out and offer the moon for the likes of Jason Blake (successfully) and Bobby Holik (unsuccessfully). Any wonder why the Leafs are two generations from being a good NHL franchise?

If I get hired as the new Toronto GM (okay, NOT a probability), I give Mats Sundin a blank cheque on a contract with a no-trade provision. IF he signs it, I then buy out the deadwood and start over. Building around a captain to be proud of, who can still play at a good level in today's NHL, that's possible. I also bet that the blank cheque comes back with a ridiculously low number on it. Given HIS choice, I bet Sundin would play for three million dollars, about half of what he's worth. But he'd want to free up finances to get him to his dream, hoisting the Stanley Cup in a Maple Leaf sweater. Hey, people play the lottery with less chance every day.

On the other hand, if Sundin doesn't want to put up with the rubes along the rails any longer and decides to self-grant his wish to retire a Maple Leaf, then I would wish him well in his post-hockey career, assuring him that there would always be a place in Toronto at Air Canada Centre for a great, great captain.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

SPORTS: The No-Trade 5

The radio waves and newspapers hereabouts are still dominated by the five Toronto Maple Leafs who would not consent to being traded away. Somehow, 41 years of abject failure and frequent mismanagement have been laid on their doorsteps.

Get over it Leaf fans!

Fact is, the Leafs are the Chicago Cubs of the National Hockey League. They sell out nightly, yet never do what is necessary to win. Winning costs money, which the owners of the club have always made, hand over fist. Not for nothing was the old Maple Leaf Gardens called the Maple Leaf Mint and the Carlton St. Cashbox. And, with the new NHL salary caps, now the club makes tens of millions MORE than they used to. Most valuable franchise in the sport.

And all because moronic fans continue to treat tickets to a Leaf game as a prize. And the businesses around here treat Leaf tickets as top-drawer bribes to clients and workers.

Cannot you all see the emperor has no clothes?

The club didn't WANT to win in the old days, because it would have cost money and eliminated profit. In those uncapped days, you bought your way out of mistakes and lack of foresight. If you signed one star who winked out, you'd replace him with somebody else's star. But the third-rail of that management style was winning it all. Win enough and EVEYRBODY on the team came up to the owners' offices with hands out, looking for raises. Best to finish close and give the fans a bit of a thrill ... and a hope. It's the old saw about keeping them asking for more. Get too close to the Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup, and you had to manufacture some crisis to bring down expectations. Then the cycle would start anew.

The fans didn't catch on. Compare that with the Montreal fans. When the Canadiens dropped to Maple Leaf levels of mediocrity, bordering on badness, the fans started staying away. Enough with this crap, they said with their feet and dollars. There was even talk the old town would LOSE its historic franchise, the sport's best down through the years. It took George Gillette to recognize the situation for what it was--an OPPORTUNITY. He bought the team, brought back intelligence in the form of Bob Gainey and then told Gainey to spend his money as he saw fit. Montreal's back, not yet a champion, but a good team playing before gigantic sold-out audiences. The fans have spoken, and they approve.

Here in the Toronto area, the money-grabbers at Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment decided the best way to replace the eminently-replaceable Pat Quinn was to find some cheap rookie GM. And John Ferguson Junior failed. Hardly a surprise. It's only now that the poohbas recognize they can't go cheap anymore in the front office. Can they also be convinced to take tens of millions in write-offs to kickstart the hoped for Maple Leaf revival? They should be. The Marching Moron Society that is the Maple Leaf fandom will continue to flock to the Air Canada Centre no matter the quality of the team. They proved that during the Harold Ballard era.

But, in the meantime, the only entertaining that will go on is how the fans greet the No-Trade 5 when next they take to the ice in T.O. Mats Sundin will draw a mixed reaction. The intelligent Leaf fan (an oxymoron), will cheer and applaud his dedication to this town, if not this organization. Tomas Kaberle is a good man and a good player. No one really wished him gone.

The same can't be said for Darcy Tucker, a shell of his former self, and no longer a valued hockey player. His past contributions probably get him absolution. Not so Bryan McCabe, who didn't recognize the train leaving town, the Larry Murphy Express, was his best option. He will be booed until he goes elsewhere to contribute. Which brings me to Pavel Kubina. The on-again, off-again saga of his possibly being traded won't result in happiness all round. He'll play to boos and catcalls aplenty for the rest of the season. Over the summer, he'll be traded whatever his feelings for staying are, or he'll play in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies. His NHL career with the Maple Leafs, the one he hung on to so tightly, has 18 games left in it.

By the start of next season, the No-Trade 5 will be three, maybe two and possibly even one. Sounds like a lot of fury and angst for the four for 18 games.

But such is the life of a Maple Leaf fan (not me, my Dad and my brother Wayne).

COMICS: There's Still Showcases to Read

I love comic books. Guess I was seven, maybe eight, when I got my first comic books. Certain covers from that era, the start of the so-called Silver Age of Comics, are indelibly etched in my memory. A good trick, given the noticeable holes in my memory I've been experiencing lately.

Although there was a lull between starting high school and doing my short tour of Ontario's colleges and universities (York University for Math, Ryerson Polytech for Journalism and Sheridan College for Business), I have been collecting comics for something close to 40 years. It won't hit the half-century because I finally stopped buying the latest drivel from Marvel and DC about three years ago. I continued to buy short-run series from the Big Two and selected works from independent companies, but on the whole, even that's come to a stop these days.

Instead, I buy books of comic books I already own.

Sounds bizarre. Looks wrong even typing it. But I've rediscovered a bit of sense of wonder about the comic book artform the last few months buying the DC Showcase series of 'telephone books.' Telephone books are black and white collections of reprints of long-ago issues of various titles. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and B-List characters like Green Arrow and J'onn Jonzz, Martian Manhunter, as well as C-List ideas like The War Time Forgot. The first Showcase issued was Green Lantern.

Now, I've got to tell you, the idea of printing Green Lantern, who used a power ring to form GREEN objects to fight crooks who might or might not know, his one weakness was fighting anything YELLOW, in a black and white book strikes me, even to this day, as, well, moronic. But I bought that volume and the NEXT Green Lantern Showcase when it came out. It was because I was looking for a particular story. Green Lantern against the Black Hand. Art by Gil Kane. I thought it might have made the first collection, but it didn't make the Showcase series until that second volume. It was issue #29. And it's buried somewhere deep in my boxes and boxes of comics.

And that's the beauty of these Showcase books. I get to re-read all the comics of my youth. All collected into a nice square-bound volume for 20 bucks, about a buck a story. I don't have to break the seal on my plastic-covered treasures and I get something I can pass along to A.J. I also get to find out that some of the stories I really loved as a kid don't stand up to the passage of time. A lot of early Superman is like that.

But some of it does. Speaking of C-List characters, DC put out a Showcase with all the early adventures of Ralph Dibny, The Elongated Man. It was a simpler time, with Dibny touring the States with his fiance and eventual wife Sue along for the ride. He solved mysteries aplenty with his malleable Mr. Fantastic-like abilities. His nose would twitch and I'd be right there with him, trying to figure out the puzzle. Sometimes Sue helped, because she was a strong female character, not a perpetual damsel in distress. The stories, many with completely implausible solutions, were a joy to re-read these four decades later. Absolutely recommended.

Which makes what DC has been doing in a battle for relevance lately. Sue Dibny was murdered last year in a vile series put out by DC that also hinted at her rape before her death. A Z-List villain named Dr. Light. He was mad because Batman, the do-gooder, had been doing bad by fiddling around with him memories. And he lashed out in a manner befitting of a real-life sicko. But not as a comic character I wanted to read about.

And that's the issue with DC and Marvel these days. In a time when a good-selling comic barely creeps over 100,000 copies (as oompared to the many million-selling issues of monthles when I started reading comics), the creators and holders of the legacies that are Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, have ratcheted up the violence and sex and sheer meanness of their characters to a point where it's like reading in a cesspool. Punisher and Wolverine are top-sellers, Wolverine getting there because he killed a couple of henchmen in an issue of X-Men. Batman has become a lunatic in deed, as well as concept. Afterall, we are talking about a man who wears underwear over his longjohns and battles gun-toting nasties, without resorting to firearms himself.

It's ugly out there, but it IS possible to find gems in all the manure that's being thrown against the comic book racks. Many an independent book has thrived (I guess it's the surrounding fertilizer). Y The Last Man, just ended it's run. Astro City shows how you can combine relevance with old-style story-telling. I miss Tellos terribly, as much for the end of the stories as for the too-early death of Mike Wieringo. Hero By Night has a contemporary old-fashioned vibe. Dynamo 5 and Fear Agent are producing monthly surprises. I wish Supernatural Law would publish more often, but Ex-Machina comes out monthly and is usually a treat. There's more, but you get the idea. Ask around. There ARE some continuing series worth reading.

And then again, there are the Essentials volumes by Marvel and the DC Showcases. Marvel got to the rack first and have been putting out black and white reprints of their major series for a few years now. A.J. managed to get most of Spider-Man read in black and white until this past Christmas. Then I handed him the 40 Years of Spider-Man DVD and let him finish off with the full-colour computerized versions of the same books he's been reading in black and white. Don't let him know, but there are more 40-year collections coming his way.

I prefer the DC Showcases to the Marvel books. It's the difference in styles that count. Marvel always produced soap-opera books as a counter-point to the DC one-and-done books. It makes for a better dipping-in experience. DC books were the ones I started on first. I thought they were better reading experiences as almost each issue featured several stories. And most of the stories were puzzles of one sort or another. The Me-Fight-You (for no apparent reason) stories were a Marvel staple then. Today, that story dominates both companies, but back then, you could actually learn things reading DC comics.

So, I'll be putting the second volume of The Brave and the Bold: Batman's Greatest Team-ups in the reading room. Won't be long before I'll read a story and remember back when I first read it.

Now, if I could only remember where in the basement I stored those originals!


Kirk Snyder got kicked out of tonight's NBA game between the Toronto Raptors and Snyder's Minnesota Timberwolves. It was a tacky second technical foul that earned Snyder the early shower. Come to think of it, the first one, an after-the-whistle slap at Carlos Delfino was just as ticky-tack.

The second one came when Snyder caught the basketball after a just-made basket and slammed the ball against the stanchion before trying to in-bounds the ball. Well, 'slammed' might be too strong. Flipped would be closer to the truth. But it's an automatic tech in the NBA, potentially dangerous to fans sitting in the area and more often a show of temper by the player. And THAT's the point of this post. So, forget Snyder from this point on.

Grumbling at officiating has reached endemic proportions in the NBA this year. Chuck Swirsky and Leo Rautins commented on it during the broadcast. At one point, one of the T-Wolves big men, Al Jefferson or Craig Smith, got called for a foul, having been caught grabbing the jersey of a Raptor player. It's the basketball equivalent of being caught with the other guy's stick in your hand while playing hockey. Hard to miss, hard to debate. But debate he did.

As Chuck pointed out, when you harp ALL the time, it sounds to the referee like "The sky is falling, the sky is falling" rather than "This guy is fouling!" The player doesn't get any credibility and certainly doesn't get the doubt anytime later. But basketball players, the collectively dumbest of the big four team sports, just don't clue in. And that's nothing new.

Back in my Continental Basketball Association days with the Toronto Tornados, we had a player named Larry McNeill. A star with Al McGuire's improbable NCAA-winning Marquette Warriors (Al and the team nickname are long gone, now), McNeill was on his last legs as a basketball player. He'd spent the year before in the Phillipines, where basketball is a national obsession. But he was desperate to take a job on this continent and landed with the expansion Tornados. This was 1983.

I was the PA guy for the team and, when McNeill made a basket, I'd make a 20-second long production out of saying, "Tornado basket by number 22, Larry McNeillllllllllll!" Starting with a lungful of air and gasping for breath when I finished, fans in the stands assumed McNeill was my favourite player.

Hated the guy.

He carped at the referees ALL the time. On EVERY play where he shot at the basket, make or miss, he'd run back up the court slapping his shooting hand with his other hand, indicating to the referee he'd been fouled. EVERY play. Surprisingly, he never got a call. I believe every referee hated him on sight, if not on hearing.

These days, the NBA talks tough about too much talkin', but can't justify handing every Kirk Snyder or Nate Robinson a "You Talk Too Much" notice when the leading woofers are guys like Tim Duncan, The West Coast Smirker (Kobe Bryant) and LeBron James. It demeans the game and encourages trash talking. And the young'uns pick up on it. Yapping is endemic on playgrounds. And that trash talking leads to violence.

All because the NBA won't hand out T's to the stars and non-stars alike. Wish it were different. But it won't ever be.

Monday, February 25, 2008

LIFE: Clueless

I was reading Earl Pomerantz's blog today at Earl's an ex-pat Canuck and one of the funniest TV writers ever. His blog has, thus far, been a funny re-hashing about how he fell into the biz.

Today, he told of a time when he unwittingly took residence at an apartment complex that, as it turned out, fashioned as a home for Call Girls. He didn't know, he was that naive.

My naivety story involves a cold wintry night back in the eighties, driving home from announcing a Toronto Tornados game. (The Tornados were a Continental Basketball Association team, owned remotely by Ted Stepien. Stepien was the Cleveland guy who had almost run the Cavaliers into the ground and out of town ... to Toronto)

The usual routine was to drive to the nearest end of the Toronto subway system, take the subway to Varsity Stadium and reverse the process to get back to my home in beautiful downtown Bramalea. To get to the subway, I had to drive down Airport Road, past Toronto International Airport and the hotel row that existed there.

So, it's sleeting and being generally miserable when I spot a woman with an umbrella ambling down the sidewalk. Maybe she was more than ambling. It was cold and wet and miserable. It seemed inhumane to just drive by and let this fellow human just keep on walking. For all I knew, she might be dazed and confused and in need of help.

I pulled over, rolled down the window and asked if she needed help getting to wherever she was going. Turned out it was the Constellation Hotel, about a half-mile down from where we were. "Get in, I'll drive you there," I told her.

The icy blast from her opening the door was proof enough that it was a good thing that I had offered aid. It was miserable out there. She said thank you upon getting in, but was huffing and puffing too much to engage in much conversation. The whole trip lasted maybe two minutes, before I pulled into the oval driveway at the Constellation (where my mother once worked).

"There you are," I said, stopping the car right in front of the front doors. My passenger looked a little confused.

"Aren't you going to park?" she asked. I shook my head. "We can't do it here," she said with some dismay.

"What do you mean ...."

That's when I got it.

"... ohhhhhhh. Sorry, I was just offering a ride. I thought you needed help."

She opened the door and got out, thanking me for my consideration on the way. And with that, ended my one and only hookup with a prostitute.

LIFE: Perfection

This week's Sports Illustrated has a Tom Verducci article on Rogers Clemens. It's a good read. It paints the picture of a person so dedicated to the art of perfection, that he can convince himself nothing of a desultory nature has ever happened to him, nor that he has done anything wrong. He apparently sleeps quite well at night.

In a way, I understand that.

I've asked other people, but only a few seem to have approached competition like Roger does. I'm one of them. Even extending to tests and exams while I was in school.

In all of my years of schooling, I always went into a test EXPECTING to get perfect. Didn't dawn on me that it might not happen. Even subjects that I wasn't a straight A student in, I expected them to ask the questions from the 80 percent or so that I did know. Of course I was going to get 100 per cent. Or better. There was that 104 I scored in Geography one year, but that's a story for another day.

Math was my major in high school. I took advanced math and then later, all three branches for my final year. Throw in computer sciences and data processing and I had nine credits in math. Scored just about perfect across the board, except for one niggling little problem. Couldn't multiply two times two and always get the right answer. THREE times in some 20-odd exams, my perfect mark was marred by making a mistake with that very calculation. Maybe, if I'd stayed past the 20-minute mark and proof-read the exams, I could have earned my perfect mark, but I honestly didn't think it was worth the time. Imagine my shock. Each time.

For me, math was fun and was easy. Mostly, things were logical and added up. On the other hand, I had less success with languages. Still, I figured I'd get perfect on the exams, no matter the struggles I had. And this despite the fact that English was actually the second language I ever learned. I was a Canadian Air Force brat and spent my early years in Baden-Baden in Germany, talking mostly with a native baby-sitter. But German wasn't a strength in high school and neither was French.

I got adequate marks, but dropped German as quickly as possible for more math courses. French was pretty much a breeze the first year. The second year, I met up with Frank Marsellus. He was a gnommish man who terrorized students mostly. I didn't enjoy his company and it was my own fault I was even in his class. I had been given the computer work to assign students to classes during the summer between grades nine and ten. One rule was you couldn't have a class with your home room teacher. But what's power for, unless to abuse it? So I diddled the program logic and got the same home room teacher as I had for French. It was supposed to be the very nice, easy-marking Miss Lindsay. But I transposed two numbers and was comported to hell.

Mr. Merciless. I called him that to his face. He let it slide and just came after me with bulldogged determination. When the first semester was done, I had a FAILING mark in the class. The only failing mark in all my years in academia. Acknowledging this small chink in my confidence, I lobbied for, and received, permission to transfer to grade eleven physics. The teacher had given me the first term coursework and I was expected to take a proficiency test the first week back from the Christmas break. I was already most of the way through the extra work when I approached Marsellus to get him to sign off on the transfer.

"Why are you transferring?"

"Cuz I failed. No sense continuing on with something that I don't like and just drags the grade average down."

"No, monsieur, you did not fail."

"Of course I did. I know exactly what I got mark-wise, and it isn't half of my math marks. I can do THAT math."

With a smile bisecting his face, he looked at me and told me I had overlooked "Participation marks."

Now, truth be told, any class I didn't feel like learning in, usually stopped as I tried to make a comedy routine out of the subject of the day. It was habit not to let ANYBODY learn, if I wasn't in the mood. Selfish? Yeah. I also knew whatever classroom participation measurement system in place, I scored worse on that, than on the exam.

Unfortunately, with my newly crafted C+ in the course, I no longer had legitimate cause to skip grades and courses. I was well and truly stuck in French for the remainder of the year.

On the other hand, Marsellus turned out to have a bent for computers (this was in the mid 70's). And he knew of my interest in Math. So, he started teaching me the parallels between math and French. It actually opened up the subject to me. I progressed to a solid B in second term before scoring an A in the final term. While still the worst mark on my report card that year, I was fairly happy until getting my final grades from Marsellus. It was simply a B+.

"Remember those marks I gave you back in the first term? Couldn't let you keep them for the full year!" He cackled at his own little joke, while I seethed. It turned out, he believed I could learn French, and my own ego agreed with him, even though my conscious mind complained throughout.

And then I took French the next year.

Turns out Frank Marsellus was the best teacher I ever had in high school. The only one to really challenge me. Hated him every second along the way, but he taught around that.

I dropped French the next year after a week. Soon as I figured out I wouldn't be able to use the math magic to do the translation since the teacher started off the course by saying, "As of this minute, there will be no English spoken in this classroom."

Couldn't get perfect, couldn't stay. That's how it goes with those that believe in perfection.

TV: Primeval Pooped Out

I am going to go back and view the complete first season of Primeval. My memory most obviously fails me, because I remember a truly entertaining series from start to finish. The second season, just concluded this weekend? Not so much.

After three good episodes to recover from a frightful start, Primeval tottered on the tip of turning into an overall pleasurable experience going into the last episode. And they couldn't help themselves. Budget restrictions, shot on some hit-and-miss special effects, didn't permit lots of soldiers. I mean, the one lot of them, was the same guy from umpteen parallel worlds. But that's NEXT season's kickoff.

What we got for MOST of the episode was a glorified video game. It was ALL puerile. Nothing of redeeming value. Lots of stupid behaviour. The tricked-out complex depended on power to run the laser 'bars' that held the nasty menagerie confined. Just as quick as you can say deus ex machina, the power goes off. And the door to safety (and reconfinement) just HAD to malfunction to the point where somebody HAD to sacrifice themselves by closing it from WITHIN the nasties' enclosure. Say, weren't there a few OTHER doors into the place earlier in the episode? And what about the upper level?

Helen, the uber-bitchy ex-wife, proves duplicitous. Now, THERE's a big surprise. And, she apparently knows Claudia aka Jenny. Which means she's parallel-world hopping. But despite knowing he's not crazy, Nick rips up a picture of Claudia at the end. Hmmm, new-found hope of getting back with gentle, in love with him Claudia, or sticking it out with Jenny, who we find surprisingly single AND good with a machine gun. Obvious choice to me. Apparently not to the Primeval writers.

Like I said, everything is in stupid black and white and the whole episode looks like something out of Castle Wolfenstein circa 1998. It truly was an Arrrrrgggh! episode.

Let's hope a summer of writing (new team, please) comes up with something better to kick off season three.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

LIFE: Foul Language Part 2

As I said in the last post, I tend to hold my foul language to a minimum, hardly ever, when in the presence of elders, women or children. I think I can count on two hands the total number of times I have sworn in front of any of those people. That's because I have suffered for each and every instance.

So, imagine my problem when on TV back in 1980 and about to utter a comment about a player's ass!

I was doing the broadcast of the Canadian National Junior Women's Softball Championship from my home-town field, Chinguacousy Park. The local girls were playing the Richmond Skunks from British Columbia for the right to represent Canada in the inaugural Women's Youth Championships to be held in Edmonton the following summer.

To say I was very familiar with the players would have been an understatement, I'd coached many of them in clinics and as a guest coach, and against them, since they were tweens. Many of them had brothers that I coached in boys' rep ball for the town. One such combination were Kimberly and Larry Quanz, two of my favourite players of all time.

Kim was a second baseman (my position). Gifted and graceful, Kim was a world-class player who hustled like a scrub just trying to make the team. All effort. Her younger brother Larry was a heart-and-soul kid with about as much softball talent as Kim had in her little finger. He made my team one year and worked SOOOOO hard, that he eventually became the starting catcher, despite NOT being able to throw the ball all the way on the fly to second base during stolen base attempts. He just battled the weak throwing arm by having an incredibly quick release. And he caught just about anything his little five-foot frame would let him get close enough to try and catch.

I loved coaching them both.

So, there I was in the back of production truck rolled up close to the backstop behind home plate. I was doing the broadcast with Larry Robertson from Burlington, like me a softballer who also reported for a living. We did the game in largely conversationl style, each one of us doing play-by-play and commentary. I tended to do more of the commentary, simply because I knew all the Chinguacousy kids.

I started to tell the Larry and Kim story. At one point, I decided to stay, "They both really hustle their ..."

Suddenly, I was stuck. I was about to refer to Kim's anatomy in a fashion a young man should not, at least on TV with tape machines rolling. The pause felt like an hour as I tried hard to come up with a word that wasn't liable to get me a long look from her parents. Finally, "... butts off," came out. It was only about a second delay. But it sure felt longer.

That was the closest I ever came to using (even a slight) swear word on TV. But I remember it vividly to this day. The panic. The relief. The fact that nobody noticed.

'Cept me.

LIFE: I Swear. You Swear. We Swear ... Sorta

Early, VERY early today, I got a phone call about a problem with my point of sale software at the Toy Chest kiosk at the Woodbine Centre. My reaction?

Crappity, crap-crap-crap!

I was upset and uttered my usual epithet. It's one that I get away with, even in front of my parents. The same parents who once introduced me to the fine taste of soap when I once said, 'Hell!' in their presence. Yes, I did indeed, have my mouth washed out with soap. It is a nasty taste. And I've never forgotten.

Now, I'm much older, and if I wanted to let loose with a string of invective, I'm pretty sure the only reaction I'd get today would be a look of disappointment. I'm too big for Ma to try the soap stunt on, now,. But it WOULD cross her mind that it might be worth a try.

I'm not completely oblivious to the art of cursing. People who know me, know that I CHOOSE to utter F-Bombs when, in fact, I have reached the end of my very short temper. It's the ultimate warning sign that somebody's stepped over the line with me. I do NOT use the phrase casually. I have one acquaintance who used the word so frequently, that he forgot he was in the presence of my then 10-year old niece. I cut him off permanently, even though said niece was already capable of using the word herself. It was the principle of the thing.

In the car by myself, I'm a filthy-mouthed idiot, quite capable of making a sailor blush. Most of that was learned in dressing rooms at various sporting events, sometimes as a participant, most times as a reporter. With an ample supply of invective phrases, I actually only ended up using a few. Other than the F-Bomb, I don't actually use any the other six words George Carlin says "You Can't Say on TV."

One of them, the euphemism for bovine excrement, is covered by the home-made extension of crap, that I invented. The phrase is intended to signal dismay, while giving me time to think about the mess I have suddenly found myself in. Barked in rapid fashion, the tone sends the message, the actual words taking the sting out of what might be an offensive utterance. It's a trick I learned from author David Gerrold.

One of Gerrold's replacements for the F-Bomb, is TANJ-it! He prefers tanj for crap, the lower-case letters and vocal emphasis indicating the difference between the two euphemisms. Tanj stands for, "There Ain't No Justice!" It's the first time I came across invented words just to get by the foul language police. Used it myself around the house, forgetting that my mother liked to read, too. End of THAT experiment!

Battlestar Galactica made 'Frak' a house-hold word back in the late 70's, as the writers of that series, got one by the idiot censors of the time. The same crew was probably still in office, taking offence, when the writers for NYPD Blue cast about for a suitably 'acceptable' curse word and came up with frig and it's cousin, friggin'. I liked THAT one. I still use it myself on occasion.

But not when Ma's around.

SPORTS: The Next Texas Hold 'Em -- CURLING!!

If you are Canadian, you are distinguished by your love of maple syrup, poutine, hockey and ta-dah, curling!


Actually, none of that is 'completely' true. For example, I can stomach maple syrup on a pancake. But nowhere else. Poutine, the gravy-and-cheese curdles-topped French Fries concoction, is simply disgusting. Only ketchup is fitting for the noble pommes frites. Hockey, okay, THAT'S Canadian. And so is curling, to a much larger segment of the populace than you would think.

Actual curling participation is something less than a half-million, between one and two percent of the population. That's impressive. And so are the TV numbers. That's because curling is the 'PERFECT TV' sport, one that I imagine WOULD be for an American population that has been primed by prolonged exposure to poker on TV. And jeez, some of the participants HAVE to inspire viewers to think, "I could do that!"

Others agree. There is actually an outfit prepping Rockstar Curling for potential inclusion on NBC's weekend schedule leading up to the next Winter Olympics in 2010. That's right, the organizers plan to search for non-playing athletes (and wannabe athletes) and put them through 6-9 months of training, in order to play for the right to represent the United States in Vancouver two years hence. And it isn't as wacky as it sounds.

First, you don't have to be a great athlete to play the sport. It helps. And the best curlers in the world are. But it ain't necessary. It's a life-long sport with curlers playing well into their 70's on the senior circuits after playing into their 50's in open competition. Women play women, men play men, except when they play mixed events, which are popular for showing women can play AGAINST men ... and win.

Of course, curling gets most of its notoriety for being amongst the most sociable games on earth. Cricket ain't got nothing on curling for socializing and playing 'by' the rules. That the beer garden at any national championship has more attendees than the stands is not legend, it's fact. Played in ice-cold arenas, the joke is that curling is the only sport you put your beer down and it's colder when you pick it up.

Curling on TV is perfect. Occasional furious action, with lots of time before and after for analysis and predictions. Any oaf can figure it out in ten minutes tops. (The poker comparison). There are audible cues for those who want the game playing in the background. Just wait until you hear somebody yelling "Hurrreeeee, Hurry Hard!!!" Look up, and there's the sliding stone entering the rings, the scoring area. You can reduce a game to about 40 minutes of paying attention if you're starved for time due to other concurrent activities (reading a book?) during the 3-hour game.

The Ontario/Manitoba battle today for the rights to play Alberta in the Women's National final, was a real humdinger. Ontario was represented by Sherry Middaugh, who's hubby Wayne is a local lad, somebody I covered from the time he was a tyke hockey player until about the time he got serious about Curling. He went on to world championships in his chosen sport, I left sports reporting. He ended the day consoling a disappointed better half, as Ontario fought back from several deficits only to lose in an extra end when Sherry couldn't make her final shot.

Not to second guess, but I think she should have gone for the draw rather than the double-takeout. (I am a curling expert, having seen all of five games in person in my life). But that's the allure of watching the game on the tube.

And you know, the ladies might be all bundled up, but there are some very attractive skips out there playing the game. They're all married to other curlers, but no game is perfect.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SPORTS: Raptor Do Okay on Trade Day

The Toronto Raptors got a little tiny tinsy bit better today. Primo Brezec will do something that Juan Dixon could not do in the looming playoffs. He will be able to foul Dwight Howard six times in any game Toronto plays Orlando. Don't laugh. That might save Toronto anywhere between three and six points, and that savings is more than Dixon would contribute. One deal I still think the Raptors need to make is to buy out Darick Martin and go for an NBDL point guard for a 10-day contract or two. I just don't think Sam Mitchell is comfortable with Carlos Delfino as a part-time PG (although I would be).

Actually Bryan Colangelo did Dixon a decent turn here. Detroit is still my pick to win the East and wackier things have happened than having the Pistons somehow outlast the Western champ for the NBA title. That would give Dixon, a fine gentleman who comported himself extremely well this season, with a ring. Seems like a just reward. Truth be told, Dixon just was not going to get major playing time elsewhere at this stage of the season. He'll have to regain his tenth man role somewhere other than Detroit OR Toronto next year.

Brezec will give Toronto six more fouls to go with Rasho Nestorovic's half-dozen whenever Toronto meets Orlando. Combined with Howard's foul-shooting deficiencies, those are important fouls. He can also play a little. Only a little, and only when Andrea Bargnani isn't on his game (a 50/50 proposition these days). But enough to goose both Bargnani and Kris Humphries, the guy who's time he will really bite into. Brezec might be a little soft, but given the abandon that the Raptors will afford him, he might just boost into a contributor. His overall value might be the effect he has on Barney and Hump.

Elsewhere, the Cleveland pick ups are also a Toronto pick-me-up in the convoluted way I described in yesterday's post. Cleveland was reeling from injuries, the latest being Daniel Gibson's injury. Combined with various ailments that affected Gooden and Varajao and Hughes' continued now you see me, now you don't act, Cleveland is better now for being healthier. I don't think Ben Wallace has much of a game left, but Joe Smith and Wally Sczerbiak do. And Delonte West, as much of a backup as he is, actually represents an upgrade at the point for the Cavaliers. He's a good defender, which has unseen value. This might be good enough to boost Cleveland up into third and set up my fantasy Raptor Romp to the Finals.

Last point is a question. Did the Knicks ownership stop any future Zeke Thomas trading mistakes? Or has he accumulated such a dearth of talent value, that he couldn't move the bad ones, even by throwing in one or two of the three valuable ones? Either way, he's toast. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. And what's this, the Raptors are in New York for the first of back to backs with the Knicks. Ahhhh, the good life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

SOFTWARE: UltraExplorer MIGHT Replace PowerDesk

Back in the early days of Windows 95, it was obvious Microsoft hadn't put much thought into Windows Explorer, the file management utility. Even back then, just about everybody used File Commander (or Norton Commander after Norton bought the rights). When that product went belly up, it was time to find something to fix Microsoft's oversight. An oversight that exists to this day.

I got lucky, finding PowerDesk+. That later begat both PowerDesk and ExplorerPlus, two off-shoots from the same base. By my count, the PD+/PD/Ex+ family ended up as property of eight different companies over the years. I bought each version. I bought version 6's of BOTH PowerDesk AND ExplorerPlus. The most recent versions of the programs are now lost in a haze. ExplorerPlus, last of Novatix in terms of development, now seems to be property of some on-line photo company that won't list the product on its site. PowerDesk belongs to V-Com and V Communications seems to have no interest in updating it.

And it needs updating. Because there is a bug in the program that is caused by big hard drives and trying to keep track of operations to undo them. Where the 40G drive was extravagant when PowerDesk 6 was released, today, it's possible to purchase 1T drives. That's terabytes. That's 1024G. That's a problem.

I've sent off emails (and even offered solutions, since afterall, I am a programmer) as long as two years ago. Did it again on the weekend. No reply.

Sooooo, I tried some others. Directory Opus has some nice features. But it lets eye candy get in the way. It only costs 20 bucks, but I thought, after testing it, that I could make do with PD/EX+ 6. It didn't offer much more for the price. I also took a look at Total Commander and xplorer2 and didn't care much for them. Still looking, I finally stumbled on UltraExplorer at

Now, this is NOT as good, or as intuitive as PD/EX+ 6. But it DOES have many of the features I have come to expect in my file manager. And it doesn't groan under the weight of my 1.4T of file storage on my network. A few third-party utilities, like 7-Zip for compressed file handling and Irfanview for graphic-file viewing makes up the gap. Magic Folder Icon takes care of my need for certain folder icons to stand out in the treeview pane. All in all, it's a pretty good first night with the program.

Are there warts? I do ALL of my file-handling in details view. I spend most of my time in date modified sort order, followed mostly by name order. Every now and then, I want to sort by extension. There is NO extension column available in UEx. That's an issue I'll take that up with the developer (who programs in Delphi, which is a PRO argument). The quicklaunch bar has to be edited through a window, rather than using drag and drop. The default setting on folders is to produce very thin columns in details view. You have to resize them for each folder. Arrrrgggh!

All in all, barring some miracle version 7 of my preferred programs, I think UltraExplorer might end up being the file manager of choice here, and with my clients. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention one other PRO argument.

It is FREE!

TV: Penultimate Primeval Percolates

After stumbling badly out of the gate, Primeval has made the move into respectability with it's strong finish to this, its second season. With one episode to go, I'm back in the fan brigade for the series.

The special effects budget for the last episode will be a doozy as the group deals with being in the middle of a zoo of prehistoric baddies. But that's this weekend coming up. This past weekend's effort was a decent setup. I still wonder why bad girl Helen Cutter continues to wear the rags of her Jurassic era sojourns in the now. And the ability to time Lester's future pets' escape from its pen to spear the mind-controlled future creature was ... unbelievable. I also hated the 'empty' ARC complex, save for the snarky politico.

Other than that, it seems the weasel Leek is more involved than being Helen's flunkie. That's good. The rest of the Professor Cutter crew were pretty good, including having Stephen come to the realization that he was little more than a dupe in Helen's plan. Nick Cutter's cutting Stephen off at the knees when he brought Helen to meet her estranged husband was good stuff. As was Cutter's dalliance with thinking Jenny was the traitor. His apology back at the ARC was priceless.

Two horrible episodes, one bad one, three decent ones and one last shot to send Primeval fans off into an off-season wanting more. Saturday's looking like a very interesting day.

MISC: Non-Feather Pillows Are For the Birds

One reason I don't travel much is the delicate state of my feather-filled pillows. Since hotels insist on using foam pillows, I am stuck for decent sleeping props when playing bridge in person.

I used to pack the pillows, but almost lost one a decade ago when an overzealous maid decided to 'replace' that disgusting pillow in my room. I couldn't have raised a bigger stink if it'd been a real life family member that had been kidnapped. After that trip to Cincinnati, I started cutting back on bridge trips and risking using the local foam to get what sleep I could get. Afterall, when at a tournament, it's not out of reason to play the 9AM, 1PM, 7PM and Midnight Teams, leaving exhaustion as an ample sleeping inducement.

Over the half-century I have been alive, I've slept almost exclusively with feather-filled pillows. I finally had to admit defeat about five years ago with one pillow that was down to a small handful of ratty feathers inside about seven zippered pillow cases. All the cases were micro-fibre bags, treated to reduce allergens. But it was finally time to admit there was no 'there' there anymore. I had to throw the pillow out, once I'd extracted it from its cocoons. It was a heart-wrenching moment.

Feather-filled pillows have personality. If you beat it into a shape, it STAYS in that shape until you hit it with a fist (or your head). It does not BOUNCE back into a 'pillow' shape, defying your will. It doesn't suddenly rise around your head, threatening to choke off your breathe or the sightlines to the TV. Feather pillows offer resistance, not a feeling of nothingness. Feather pillows are for people who love sleep and hate sore necks.

I have dallied with other kinds of pillows. I tried the buckwheat pillows, astounded that the price I paid only got me a hand washcloth-sized pillow (they don't make pillow cases in that size). Sorta worked, but it was too small. And they didn't make them in the right size to really give it a try. I tried an air pillow, it was too slippery. Memory foam pillows? Please. Shaped Foam pillows. Sorry. Did I mention I sleep on my stomach? Nope, it has to be feathers.

And I have to have two of them. One to rest my head, the other to hold ready to replace the other, when it gets warmed up. Because there's nothing like a cool pillow to rest a weary head when you badly need some sleep. Not as good as sex, but right up there!

SPORTS: Raptor Thoughts

Some this and that about the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors won't make a major move by tomorrow's trade deadline in the NBA. Fact is, I don't think they even make a small move. Sure, I'd deal Dixon plus either Graham or Martin to Golden State for Mickael Pietrus. If throwing in all three would net Pietrus, Austin Croshere AND an open roster spot, I'd be ecstatic. That would open up a spot for an D-League point guard to join the team for a pair of 10-day contracts. THAT should buy enough time for TJ Ford to get healthy. Randy Livingston might be just the right kind of guy. Failing Livingston, how 'bout ex-Raptor Andre Barrett? But I'm still picking no deal in the lottery.

Of the first round opponents Toronto is likely to meet in the playoffs, they sure want to see Orland bracketed with them. The Magic rise and fall on the play of Rashard Lewis when it comes to Toronto games. If he shines, Magic win. If not, Toronto wins. Simple as that. And I can see him not shining when the intensity ramps up. Also, Toronto beats the Magic if Lewis AND TJ Ford both play well, since Orlando loses the point guard badly in that case. Dwight Howard? Saw-off with Chris Bosh. It's the supporting cast that will be in the spotlight.

Sooooo, if Toronto can beat Orlando, how does Toronto fare against Cleveland. Lose badly. Assuming Cleveland's healthy by then. And that's a big assumption. That said, is there a scenario that gets Toronto that Orlando bracket? It requires a big surge by Cleveland, and right now, that looks not to be happening. Off the form of the all-star break, it appears like Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Orlando, Cleveland, Washington, Atlanta and Philly are the playoff teams. Toronto has to avoid Cleveland and Washington in the first round.

The dream Toronto final standings in the East? Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Orlando, Washington, Philly, Atlanta. The only easy first-round matchup would be the Pistons dunking Philadelphia. Atlanta would run the Celtics hard, while the Washington big three might actually over-throw King James' crew in Cleveland. As specified, Toronto would beat Orlando. That would set up Boston-Toronto and Detroit-Washington. Again, Toronto matches up well against the Celtics, while Washington would battle Detroit tough. Hopefully so tough, that after Toronto dispatched the Celtics, the survivor would be too battered and bruised to stop a Raptor rampage to the NBA championship.

Where the Raptors would lose in four straight to whoever comes out of the West.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

SPORTS: Super Dwight

I was pushing for Jamario Moon of my Toronto Raptors to win the NBA Dunk Competition, but I have to bow down to the brilliance that was Dwight Howard tonight. Howard's last dunk, after it was all wrapped up, was pedestrian when taken out of context. But as the capper to an unforgettable trio of dunks, it could be forgiven.

Moon got jobbed in not being around in the final to witness the coronation of Super Dwight up close, but we only remember the winner. Gerald Green, the defending champion, outdid Moon in the first round of the semi-finals with an unbelievable stunt in blowing out a birthday cupcake candle. But Green's second dunk was worth nothing more than 8's, if that. On the other hand, Moon had a twisting reverse dunk from outside the circle, which was well worth the 9's he got. His second dunk would have gotten 9's and 10's if he'd only avoided putting a mark on the floor past the free throw line. Instead of the high marks his long reaching LEFT-HANDED layup getting the hosannas it deserved, he was marked down for not hitting his mark.

I think Green's voting was rigged to give him the one point more than Moon he needed to get into the final. The judges all thought he'd be more theatrical than the little-known Moon. Instead, he duplicated the old Vince Carter through the legs dunk ... twice, leaving them with nothing for the dubious decision.

The three dunks Howard did to start the competition are all going to be in the top ten of all-time. The one everybody will talk about is the Superman dunk. The players will talk about the dunk on the behind the backboard rebound. And his best realy was the third of the three, the volleyball spike dunk off his own over-the-basket tip. No way does Moon compete with that.

Betcha Moon gets his revenge in the playoffs though.

MISC: Notes From Everywhere

Nothing to babble on at length, so here are some thoughts.

The Toronto Star once more affirmed the validity of eating an apple a day. Better still, Dr. Joe Schwarcz has put out a book called "An Apple A Day." Dr. Joe is a great writer who brings science down to a level an old coot like me can understand. And maybe I'll keep understanding. Apples are seen as one way to help stave off Alzheimer's Disease. And frankly, my memory isn't as good as it used to be. I eat apples for digestion purposes. At least that's the way I remember it.

The TV series Damages is coming to Canada. I thought the pilot was one of the best I saw last year. The unfortunate fact was, that by the end of the series, all of it well done, I didn't like any of the characters in it. Shouldn't there be somebody to root for, rather than against?

Every wannabe-mobster who phones up a radio show and excoriates Andy Pettitte for ratfinking out his best pal, Roger Clemens is a moron who would do society a favour by never having children. It's fine to lie a little white lie for your friends. We've all done it. I've asked friends to do it for me. MOSTLY it's about protecting the feelings of others. Occasionally it's self-serving. But the willingness to lie (or misremember) ends at the end of a legal summons. You don't ask me to make myself a criminal on your behalf. THAT is friendship. Otherwise, these anonymous little weenies who would wet their pants if they ever got a subpoena, should just SHUDDAP!

Gregg Zaun now seems no more credible than Roger The Dodger. Sad, really. Zaun's story that the cheque to Kirk Radomski that earned him inclusion in the Mitchell report was actually a payoff on a gambling deck to Jason Grimsley, strains credulity. The story would have had more weight if it'd come out two months ago. Now it sounds like the poor result of two months of thinking up stories. Zaun's answer to "Have you ever used illegal performance-enhancing drugs?" is the legal reply, "I have never tested positive for drugs and never been in violation of Major League Baseball's drug policies." Sorry, that's a euphemism for, "Yeah, but...." Zaun overcame a hard-living lifestyle to turn into the kind of player kids can look up to. No more. Pity. I liked him.

The reviews have been mixed for Jumper. I read all three Jumper books last year and have been looking forward to this movie for some time. I'm still going. Even if just for the scenery. For those of you who see the movie and are disappointed, do yourself the favour of picking up the first book in the series. Stephen Gould wrote two great books and a so-so third book, but the movie is to blame for the third book. Griffin's Story was obviously a pre-movie tie-in, introducing the Griffin character and, more importantly, the paladins. The original story wasn't complicated by black hat conspiracies.

It's Family Day on Monday. More peace and quiet here in the Castle of Confusion. Just like today and just like Thursday. The joys of a solitary existence is that every day seems like a holiday. Hope you enjoy yours as much as I enjoy mine.

Friday, February 15, 2008

SCHOOL: Done Your Homework?

Last week, I went off on the Halton Board of Education's decision to forgo deadlines for assignments (and homework). Technically, they just eliminated late penalties, but a late assignment is a late assignment, whatever the overly-rosy name.

It's still a dumb idea, whatever slight nits you might want to argue over.

On the other hand, the other recent uproar over too much homework has me on the side of the 'slackers.' I do agree that turning little Johnny and Jills into over-stressed nine-year olds is probably counter-productive. Yes, they SHOULD have deadlines (one or two a week) to meet, just to get into the habit. But turning the school-day into an 8-hour marathon five days a week probably isn't a good idea.

I think kids should be kids. I think they should do some homework just to get used to the idea, starting really small and growing slightly each year until they are no longer in school. And I like the idea of emphasizing reading and being read to, for the youngsters. Some rote learning would be permissible too.

Teachers need to co-ordinate to keep total homework to a manageable size. Teachers suffer from homework overload too. Most of my bridge partners are teachers. They hate GIVING the homework (with its subsequent marking) as much as the kids hate getting it. There SEEMS to be a happy compromise available here.

Intelligent co-ordinated homework might help make EVERYBODY's life simpler and better.

I was talking to one mother recently about a 'home' project that involved building something. The student was supposed to do all the 'building' while the parent or parents were supposed to offer guidance. As anybody who's seen parents 'guide' their children's go-kart productions, some of the parents were very 'involved' in the home work. My friend was worried that she wasn't doing enough for her kid.

"Do you really think I should have helped out more?" she asked. She was expecting me to say, "Of course not."

She was shocked when I said yes. Not to the point of actually DOING the homework for the child. I honestly believe in the Socratic method of teaching. Questions and answers. When teaching one of the movie mob how to play chess, I started off with two rules, never make a move without a reason and always come up with a reason for your opponents' moves.

After that, the idea is for the student to do a play-by-play of what they are doing and thinking. The teacher's role is to watch where the student might go too badly off the right path and ask questions to let the student find the right way back. Allowing slight detours down a wrong way are good for the teaching process.

This way teaches the student HOW to solve problems, rather than the rote answer to any one particular problem. It's the teaching equivalent of the old saw about feeding a man a loaf of bread versus teaching the man how to fish. One leads to a lifetime of nourishment, the other to hunger tomorrow.

Is this method of teaching more difficult for the parents? Of course it is. Some parents aren't equipped to take the time to do this. Sometimes the parents don't have the knowledge spectrum to do it. And other parents don't have the temperament to do it. On the other hand, being a parent isn't SUPPOSED to be easy.

The parents that I know do a really good job of involving themselves in their kids' education. Do they adhere to my approach? No. A lot of THEIR homework is overseeing quizzes and tests and going through tests sent home by the teachers. They just don't get enough of the projects that teach critical thinking.

So, I get to stay in my ivory castle and pass judgment on the homework system. That's my job.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

MAGAZINES: The SI Swimsuit Issue

As mentioned below, that annual ode to impending summer, arrived on a nice blustery, wintry day. The temperature was just a tad below freezing when I opened the door to do the quick snatch and grab out of the mailbox and get back to the warm comfort of the Cave.

I have every swimsuit issue since, I believe, 1967. Plus some assorted issues from before that. I think the feature started in 1961. But I could be wrong. I've been an SI subscriber for MOST of the last 41 years, although a big chunk of that time was covered by Ken Giles giving me HIS collection which filled in the holes nicely.

And it's issues like this year's version that seriously has me thinking about ending that subscription.

It's not that beautiful women in skimpy bathing suits are offensive. Far from it. Cheryl Tiegs on the Amazon River discovering just how transparent a net top can be. 'Nuff said. Every shot gets compared to that one. The overwhelming majority fail. But usually, one a year earns a second gander.

Not this year. The double-sized issue is wall-to-wall swimsuits (and some non-suits) and they're ... nice. No double-takes. And it took forever to 'read' the issue. And when I was done, NOTHING. The issue registered NOTHING on the memory scale. And there wasn't even any sports to balance the babes.

I'm getting to an age where a nubile 20-something isn't as sexy as somebody with experience nearer my own age. Sexy is alway about the POSSIBILITY of sudden nekkidness, not having it blatantly paraded in your face.

Too many pages. Too few memorable images. No Sports. Sort of a waste of a subscribed-to issue for me. Sheer inertia probably will prevent me canceling, but I'm sure hoping I'm around for next February's blahs and a BETTER, SEXIER issue of Sports Illustrated. You know, the one without any sports in it.

SPORTS: Clemens, What Else?

The TV brought me Roger Clemens equivocating on-screen and the mail brought me this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. The connection? Athlete's wives in skimpy bikinis. A few years ago, the Clemens's were part of that feature. As we found out yesterday, Debbie Clemens worried enough about her appearance there to take Human Growth Hormone. But her husband NEVER EVER touched the stuff.

Gimme a break.

Two days before Roger the Dodger appeared before the Congress, his lawyer said reports she had also been injected with HGH were bogus. She have NEVER EVER touched the stuff.

The problem with Clemens' story is that it changes as new evidence and witnesses show up. If you can't tell the same story twice in a row, the odds are pretty good you are lying. And his only defence is that the weasel telling MOST of the stories against him is too slimy to be believed. 'Cept the weasel's story keeps getting verified by various members of the Clemens retinue and circle of friends. If the DNA evidence on the long-kept steroidal equivalent of Monica's dress proves out, then Clemens is done. He'll be tossed in jail, given no better or worse treatment than Martha Stewart.

Even if the evidence ends up being inconclusive, Clemens is no better than Mark McGwire, a non-admitted cheat, in my mind. A key difference is whether Clemens actually ever gets convicted of those charges. If not, he'll get into the Hall of Fame, whereas McGwire didn't deserve to get in there anyway. His taking the fifth, rather than touting his innocence, probably cost him his actual shot at membership. And it's that fact that has probably driven the Clemens Innocence Tour. In strictly a "he said/he said situation," Clemens might have bluffed his way past that portion of the electorate that decided McGwire's potential Hall of Fame membership solely on the steroid issue.

In a Hall that does NOT include Roger Maris, a couple of mammoth home run seasons does not McGwire a Hall-of-Famer make. He was a low-average batter with no speed to speak of. He was barely adequate at first base for a short period of time, less than average other than that. His non-homer numbers scream NO. The big seasons in St. Loo and the fact that Big Red was one of the nicest guys in the game pushed YES to the forefront ... until that fateful day he sat in the same room Clemens did yesterday. All of his charitable work went right out the door that day. And so did his Hall of Fame chances. Nice guy. Not a Hall of Famer.

Now, Clemens is different. Not a nice guy. Never did much in the way of 'charity' that he didn't advertise the hell out of. A team player in that the team came second to his individual goals. And as he got older and discovered just how far management would go to appease him, his sense of 'team' deserted him completely. The man choked on the ultimate stage more often than not. But talent and hard work made him a frequent winner when it didn't count all that much. Win enough and last long enough and you end up with a lot of W's for a career and a Cy Young award or seven. It adds up to a Hall of Fame career.

Unless the born-again drug-haters in the voting pool know you did it with just a little (or more probably, a BIG) help from the local druggie store. Then, the ego-needing capper to a career, a bronze statue in Cooperstown, looks a little iffy.

Thus started the Innocence Tour. It was filled with Clemens ACTING aggrieved. But the frequent refrain was "How do you prove a negative?" How indeed? As long as it was his word against that of McNamee, the politics-style PR campaign looked successful. But then Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, the other two outed drug users, both corroborated McNamee. Peripheral witnesses, like Pettitte's wife and a former Clemens nanny also pointed out flaws in the story. Even Debbie Clemens took the lustre off the spin Clemens was throwing out to any and all who would hear.

Not one thing Roger Clemens did or said convinced me he was telling the truth and was the victim of a liar out to save his butt. His taping and later playing of a phone conversation with McNamee was a bizarre example of offered proof that did anything but. Maybe in the Clemens Dimension where he lives a lot, but not here on Earth. His reaching out to his former nanny to talk to her BEFORE testifying? More bad judgment.

Had I a vote, I'd vote no to Clemens. THAT's the message to youths who aspire to play pro sports. Use drugs and you risk losing everything save for the money. If it stops ONE kid from reaching for the needle or bottle of pills, the vote would be worth it. I would be in the minority with the vote. He will get in, maybe having to wait one year as punishment. UNLESS he's convicted. Then all bets are off.

One last thing. Please no more Dan Burton. Whoever in the States keeps voting this idiot into Congress owes everybody an apology.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

TV: Primeval Turning Corner?

Two episodes from the end for this year, Primeval turned in an episode I had little to moan and complain about. The good stuff was there, intelligence, a decent set of primordial baddies, and Lucy Brown dressed to thrill. She's a beautiful lady when she lets her hair down.

Aside from the fact that Brown's Jenny Lewis is singularly cause enough to watch when she's not acting stupidly, the adventure with Professor Nick Cutter and Stephen Hart in the past was a good one. Pretty well a complete knockoff of Tremors, but if you steal with style, it can be completely pleasing. The way home was a little contrived, but it gave Ben Miller's Lester a chance to harrumph in style. Earlier, his calling Abby and Connor, "Daphne and Scrappy" (of Scoobidoo fame) was priceless. Line of the series.

The Hidden Agenda folks, let by the nasty Helen Cutter, were revealed in large part to Nick. He still doesn't know his errant wife is behind things, but he DOES know somebody on the inside is working against the ARC's best interests. WE know it is the sycophant, Leek. We also know Stephen's been bedding Helen, but has misgivings. But there's two weeks for the Professor to catch up.

I'm actually looking forward to Primeval again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

SCIENCE: Chilled Plastic Doesn't Bounce

It's been a day. It ended on a good note (see previous post), but it rated a BLECHHH! until then.

The day started off with a visit to the dentist. Doc Sharma had an assistant deal with me this time, as he's been totally unable to get me to do some cosmetic dentistry that he and my dad both want me to do. Since I'm pain and money-adverse to the idea, the Doc hasn't succeeded yet. Nice try with the pretty lady, but still no sell. She did find three occlusions on my molars, but those will be filled during a no-local anesthetic session in late April. I can put up with no-needle dentist visits.

Right at the end of the trip there, having survived the poking and prodding with the teeth-cleaning sonic drill, I swallowed some of that sealant that's applied just at the end of the process. While not completely gag-inducing, it did leave me with an upset tummy (and I've got a BIGGGGG tummy). Everything that happened after that, I blame on the upset tummy.

Off to Costco I went to pick up my spring supply of Ketchup, amongst other things. Ketchup, only from Heinz, is as vital to me as water. I can go a week without milk or bread. I could swig diet soda, if we had a water emergency. But eat without Ketchup? Simply impossible. (Is it a mark of my madness that I am addicted to Ketchup, but can't stand raw tomatoes?)

Twelve big bottles should just see me through the spring. I got some other stuff I needed, but half the haul was Ketchup. I got them into the trunk of the car and then lit out for my last stop before going home. I had some birthday presents for the O'Neill clan to pick up at the Comic Warehouse. And I had to check up on the point of sale software that I wrote for them. Turns out there were a few nits and some new features they wanted implemented. Work. Hmmmpf! I have books and TV show sets to watch. Who wants to work?

Took me 45 minutes to disengage myself and get home. Did I mention it was about 25 below CELSIUS with the wind factor tossed in? Yeah, it was just the day I would have asked for, in leaving the Cave for the first time in a week or so.

I opened the trunk and grabbed four of the double bottle packages to take into the house. ALMOST made it all the way, but one tumbled to the floor just inside the house. It had sprung a leak. Dang it! A little surprised, but spills happen. I went back out to the car and grabbed the box of Kraft Dinner boxes, some ZipLoc bags and the remaining Ketchup.

This time, the bottles hit the cold asphalt between the car and the house. POP!! It was the same sound water balloons make hitting pavement (Don't ask how I know that). The driveway had suffered a grievous wound, ketchup spreading out like I had just shot it. Fifteen bucks of wonderful red goodness was now seeping into the icy covering that made the driveway such a delight to navigate.

I had no choice. I shoveled some of the snow BACK from the snowbanks rimming the driveway onto the spill and waited for a minute or two. The waiting part was partly from my exhaustion doing any shoveling at all. I HIRE that out, and have for years. Confident I now had a chance at clearing it up, I shoveled the Ketchupy snow up and over the snowbank and onto my snow-covered lawn.

Naturally enough, every neighbour I have, chose that exact time to arrive back home. Maybe they got the phone call from Ripley's Believe It or Not that I was actually doing some snow-shoveling of my own. Whatever the rationale, they all had the same joke. "Where's the body?" Wasn't funny the first time. By the fourth time, I was wondering if I could use the Ketchup to actually hid a body in the snowbank. If it hadn't been so much work, I might have explored the idea further.

I went into the house, had some food for the first time today and crawled onto the bed to try and get some exhaustion-fueled snooze time in. It had been a long, lousy day. Until I got the phone call.

At least I found out the elasticity-limits of those plastic bottles.

Do NOT try this at home.

HEALTH: Get Your Colonoscopy

Less than two months ago, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer. Today, I got the phone call that he had checked out as cancer free and was looking at a long life phoning me up to ask questions about his computer.

Less than two months.

I know cancer is the biggest, scariest word any family can hear these days. But it doesn't have to be. My father lives an active life that includes a good diet. He knows his body pretty well. And as soon as he detected something unusual in his day to day life, he went and got himself checked up. That's despite being completely scoped out not that long ago. When he got the diagnosis just before Christmas, various family members reacted various ways. The least concerned amongst us was Dad, himself, and me. I KNEW he had had the ugly growth detected early. And colon cancer is a very survivable cancer for those that get it.

So unconcerned about the whole thing was Pops, that he slept in on the day of his operation. If he was unconcerned, I wasn't going to go against his confidence.

He had good doctors, both diagnosing and operating. The best in the province in the latter case. As I understand it, two growths were removed. MRI's and other tests done last Thursday showed a complete lack of cancer cells. The doctors tell him there is better than an 85 per cent chance the particular cancer will not come back.

My mother is now free to kick him in the butt for just cause. Won't be long before he affords her with the cause. In other words, things will be back to normal down at the lake where the Eastern branch of the Clan Mugford resides.

All because Dad got checked out. I truly appreciate his efforts in doing so. It saved the whole family from so much pain and remorse. I hope you and your family never even have to go through even two months of uncertainty. All your loved ones of an advancing age should get colonoscopies. They are life and lifestyle saving.

NOTE: Yes, my flu's gone and the doctor is setting up a second shot at my own. In March, as I understand it. It's to be done around the March Madness schedule that has me glued to the tube anyway.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

COMPUTERS: Zoho, Google Alternatives to Office

Just before Christmas, my parents' computer crashed. Thanks to CrossLoop, I managed to get them up and running rather quickly. The one casualty of the whole affair was a trashed copy of Microsoft Office on their computer. And they couldn't find the install disk.

So, I installed Open Office and weathered the complaints that it was different. And slower. And, did I mention, it was different. Though I've had the time, and discovered the missing disk, the fact is that they are still using Open Office. Just for writing documents. Nothing else. And it suffices for that.

If Mom and Pops were just a LITTLE more ambitious, I think I might have gone down a different route. Open Office is perfectly fine for a power user who needs just short of actual Microsoft Office power. There's also some formatting issues if you share your files with an actual MS Office user. But it's mature enough to meet a solo worker's office needs now.

On the other hand, both MS Office and Open Office are complex behemoths at this point in their development cycle. Sometimes simpler is better. Readers, I present you with Google Docs and Zoho.

Google Docs has a couple of things going for it. It's free. Google itself is a pretty nice parent to have, and it's been out there being beta-tested for a long time. For what it's supposed to do, word processing, spreadsheeting and making presentations, it does pretty well. The downside is that you have to have an existing gmail account to get access. Those aren't exactly as rare as Toronto Maple Leaf wins, but a bit nettlesome to get. If you DO have one, click on the More|Documents choices from the top menu and you are in.

The new fair-haired child on the market can be found at

I like Zoho's ability to be simple enough for senior citizens. How does Jerry Pournelle put it? 'Aunt Minnie's Office.' The full panoply of potential jobs you might want from an Office app is right there on the opening page. You do have to set up an account, WITH a password, but it's free for the most part. And that password thing lets other collaborate with you in a more interactive way than just passing email or instant messages back and forth. I could really see two writers writing a book, much like Pournelle does with Larry Niven, using a Zoho account. (Hear that Brian Jamieson?)

Frankly, Zoho limits choices and features and that is probably exactly what 75 per cent of Word users need. A lesser amount need spreadsheet limitations, but it's still a sizable lot. Not the least of these limitations, is a reduced font list to pick from. That's a wonderful thing.

Do I use Zoho for anything myself. Nope. I have the experience and a variety of publishing needs that prevent me from limiting myself. But if the parental units had NOT taken the time to learn a little bit about Word, Zoho would have been a good alternative. Maybe even a better alternative.

There are, of course, some flies in the ointment. It's a web service, so it isn't blazing quick all the time. Reasonable, though. And, if your internet is down (happens to Bell Sympatico more often than I would like, but Mom and Dad can't get cable internet just now), you can't write that grocery list, other than by hand. Perish the thought! Security is not much of an issue, but it's an issue to some people. Obviously, sharing material back and forth with desktops works less well than the Zoho people would like you to believe it does. But it's not much different than the interplay between Open Office and MS Office.

On the other hand, it's free and accessible any time you can get onto the internet from a computer. Doesn't have to be your own computer.

Give it a look.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

TV: Friday Night Lights Finale?

If Friday night's episode of Friday Night Lights is the last we will ever see, thanks to the writers' work stoppage, then it ended peacefully. But it would be disappointing if NBC didn't give the sophomore drama another chance.

It's a sports-related drama and that's poison for the folks who see a pigskin and immediately switch to ... well whatever. It's a high school drama and that sends a whole different segment of viewers scrambling for the remote control. And there's no laugh track, which means other potential watchers can't follow the action.

But it does have a really believable family dynamic in the Taylor family, with Kyle Chandler as the Coach and Connie Britton as his wife, Tammi. Britton is aging just fine thank you very much. She's the new Suzanne Pleshette, sexy until the day she passed last month. The putative sex object in the family is the daughter, Julie, played with pout-lipped bitchiness by Aimee Teegarden. Personally, she comes off more like a petulant whiner to me, but that's fitting with several of the teen-age girls in my extended family.

SIDEBAR HERE: I have a lot of faults, many of which have been described in earlier posts. Let me add a new one. I don't think babies are beautiful. Since I've never had one of my own, I can still think and see clearly. Most babies are merely okay. Some are butt ugly. I apologize to the real family of the little baby that plays Gracie Bell on this show. But that is an ugly baby. She'll probably grow up into a beautiful lady, but right now, UGLEEEE! I am sorry I have offended you, but it needed saying. END OF SIDEBAR.

The other family dynamic in the show is the football team. This year, the focus has been split four ways, with Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons), Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and Brian 'Smash' Williams (Gaius Charles) all getting spotlight time.

Clarke's story is the most unbelievable of the bunch, what with him killing a (bad) man in the defence of the fair Tyra (Adrianne Palicki). He eventually ends up with Tyra, and geeks everywhere rejoice. Clarke's transformation from football-hating sideliner to touchdown-scoring hero doesn't ring true, nor does Tyra's seeing the light that it's what's on the inside that counts. But any screen time for Palicki is time well spent. She actually has facial expressions, exceptional in a young actress.

Riggins was last year's screw-up, who bedded every available woman in Dillon, Texas. And he proved a key component in the teams' success. This year, he's still a screw-up, but has kept the catting around to small numbers in an attempt to win back the heart of a last year conquest, the uber-religious Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly). Don't know how Riggins can booze, drive a pickup and attend school on a whim ... and stay active on the football team, but he does. This is the most uninteresting story in the lot.

Saracen was the focus last year. The seldom-used, shy backup with familial problems, Saracen blossomed like a peacock at the right time and quarterbacked the Dillon Panthers to a state title. Fame and fortune should have ensued. The nice little relationship with Julie Taylor should have become a life-long love story. None of that happened and Saracen ended up with the Riggins role of last year, scoring more chicks than touchdowns. Basically, a throwaway story this year.

The Smash Williams story is the arc that finished the season, and maybe the series. Charles' powerful performance for the self-involved Williams was the most watchable thing in the end. Brought back to earth doing the 'Right' thing while doing the wrong thing, Williams keeps on falling right into a dark hole. His sense of invulnerability is obliterated, leaving him crying on his bed. You feel for the guy.

Friday Night Lights was good TV, better last year than this. It deserves renewal. It's doubtful that it will get it. Co-creator Peter Berg was on this show. It was almost a tacit admission that this was it. Several threads were left open, not the least of which was paraplegic Jason Street (Scott Porter) and his possible impending fatherhood. But the rest of the stories were all at a point where regular viewers could create their own story continuations. It was a good stopping point.

Friday, February 08, 2008

FOOD: Ceramic Knives Worth the Money

Yesterday (well actually today, but the clock just struck twelve) I had to use a stainless steel paring knife to core and slice up my daily apple. It was like hacking apart a cord of wood with a piece of fishing line.

I normally use a ceramic knife to do the job. It does the job with aplomb, something I didn't realize when I failed to get the dishwasher loaded and turned on before the meal started. The ceramic knife was in the dishwasher and hadn't been cleaned yet. So I pulled out the paring knife and went to work.

The normally simple task with the ceramic knife took me twice as long. I had to be exceeding careful, since I wasn't used to exerting that much pressure to cut things. Twice, I pushed hard enough to lose control of the blade.

It was a reminder at how thoroughly the ceramic knife I bought at Golda's Kitchen had taken over the culinary work here in the Castle of Confusion. It's a 4-inch long ebony blade that set me back $120 on sale. And it's been worth every penny. It's razor sharp, as sharp today as when I got it. It's normally a rinse and wipe off cleaning implement, but I got sticky sauce on the handle, and that's plain plastic.

The knife has a lightweight feel, but is well balanced. And I use it to cut EVERYTHING. Minimal pressure is required. And because it's ceramic, you can cut lettuce without staining it or leaving behind a steely taste. You can cut green onions, rinse it through some hot water and then immediately slice up an apple WITHOUT transferring any tastes. Like I said, worth every penny.

But it IS sharp. First day I had it, I was skinning the top part of a cucumber. I have no idea how people can eat a cucumber rind, but enough of you do it that I AM considered the odd one. That said, I held the cucumber pointed towards myself and peeled towards me. This is, of course, wrong. But it's the way I did it for the better part of 40 years.

The problem was that this wasn't a little plastic-handled paring knife with a two-inch blade. This blade had a small handle on it, intended for a slicing down method. The edge of the blade came at my own thumb with very little resistance from the cucumber. It sliced into my thumb. And the blade was so sharp, I didn't even notice it!!!!

I did eventually notice the blood dripping from the half-inch cut and effected immediate repairs, but I never sliced a cucumber like that again. Now, I lop off the desired amount, put it on a cutting board and shave down the sides until there is no green showing. Like I am supposed to.

Good knives are expensive. Good steel ones are into triple figures. I'd say ceramic knives run about twice the price of an equivalent quality steel knife and are on par price-wise with high-end cutlery. If you are an adult, with no clumsy kids around to test the validity of my cucumber story, then really consider a ceramic knife. No sharpening ever again. One knife can do just about ANY cutting work short of what a hack saw would have to do.

And you know, it's just plain sexy to look at.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

LIFE: School Board Stupidity

One advantage I have when writing this blog is that there is no rule that I post on any given day. I'm trying to write one piece a day, catching up whenever I miss a day (or 11) with multiple postings. I have no deadline save that that I impose on myself.

According to a column I read in the Toronto Star on Monday (note, this is still late Thursday when I am getting around to venting), the Halton Board of Education has decided to do away with deadlines for assignments given to their students each term.

That ONE moron came up with this idea is to make me despair about the future of civilization. That a board of morons voted to ratify this policy makes me wonder about the future of humanity. I'm guessing the voting board members have progeny. I shudder at the concept spreading.

The education process in school is [A] socialization skills before [B] information acquisition. Somehow, kids prodded through pre-kindergarten, K-6, senior public, high school and eventually post-secondary school education are supposed to grow up into contributory citizens with a modicum of general knowledge and enough specialized knowledge to earn a living.

There are subjects I have never broached in life once out of the school system. I have not spoken German in more than 30 years (despite it being the first language I ever spoke). Haven't said a word of Latin in a longer span. But have dabbled a bit in French. I DO use my math and writing backgrounds professionally, although you readers occasionally doubt the latter. I haven't conducted a science experiment since lighting some phosphorous and dropping the ignited strip on the formica counter in the kitchen. The typing I took in high school and for one class in university has come in handy. And so it goes.

What I learned in school was how to interact with humanity. To deal with them, both on their terms and on my own. One of the things I managed to figure out is that deadlines are there for a reason. They can't be ignored willy nilly.

I'm not talking about late fines at the library or video store (I buy now, having experienced fines). I'm talking about losing a friend and a job opportunity because I thought a deadline was just a suggestion. I found out too late that the legal system doesn't like its information workers to be late providing key paperwork for ongoing cases before the court. When I left MY part til too late, and couldn't pull off an all-nighter, the friend that sublet the job to me lost his. Several guilty people skated. I lost the potential income. And I lost a friend.

I am a deadline worker. Have been all of my life. Under pressure, I'm pretty good at producing results. Tell me you need it today, and most times, today is when you will get it. Tell me a week Tuesday and you'll get the product of my work next Monday ... on Tuesday. Tis a sad fact, but I am a procrastinator. A very experienced, dedicated procrastinator. Occasionally, it results in me working myself sick, but it is who I am.

IF I didn't have deadlines, I would be unemployable. I'd be a bum living on the streets. Given the choice between putting something off and doing it right now, it's EXTREMELY likely I will find a book or a TV show to watch instead.

As a result, I love deadlines.

Guess it comes partly from earning my first pay cheques in life as a newspaper reporter. It emphasized to me that what I learned in school, due dates, was one of those few things from school that would translate into adult life. Later, I became a programmer. I've been working on one un-ending project now for more than a decade. But individual parts of that program, when required, are done in a time frame my employer needs to have me work inside of. We just had an inventory and I had to expand the analysis of the inventory to include departmental cost breakdowns, drawing from several data sources to decide what department to put what value into. He asked for me to complete the project before the inventory was taken. I succeeded. Without the deadline, IBM (it's an acronym for an Arabic phrase that means: God be willing, maybe tomorrow!).

The morons who voted in this policy must be politicians who have never worked a meaningful day in their individual lives. Regular productive life in this world is full of deadlines. People succeed and fail based on their abilities to do quality work within those deadlines.

If it stresses out little Johnny and Jill that they have some assignments due tomorrow (or today, it happens), that's too bad. That's real life in a microcosm. If they fail to meet deadlines when they travel through the Halton birth canal to adulthood, they will emerge unprepared to take on real life. They will have the kind of laizzez-faire attitude to getting work done that's gotten current society into the lazy shape we are in. In fact it will be worse. They will know they are lazy and will expect no one to care.

I hope the cold sober kick in the pants these board members must be getting from multiple parents who LOVE their kids enough to ask for deadlines, gets them to reverse their decision. Otherwise, I'd have to say that if a resume from any potential employee crossed my desk with a Halton education, I'd immediately round-file it. I wouldn't, could't trust the person to do their work on time.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

TV: Best This Year is 2003 Show

You. YOU hate shows about writers. Especially newspapermen. I know You gave Jessica Fletcher some love on Murder She Wrote and let Lou Grant into Your house on occasion. But generally, the only people who love shows about writers, are writers.

I'm a writer.

Ergo, I loved State of Play, the 2003 mini-series that ran in England on the BBC. It's going to make a Canadian appearance sometime on TVO or BBC Canada. Or you'll see it on DVD in a store. Whatever the circumstances, you simply must watch it.

London, not long after 9/11, is the setting for a double-murder that initially appears to be two unconnected deaths. That connection emerges in the first of the six-hour mini-series, thanks to the work of Cal McCaffrey (played by John Simm) and his team of intrepid reporters. The murders entwine an old friend of Cal's, government minister-to-be Stephen Collins (played by David Morrissey). The first hour ends with a third casualty, one that shocked me immensely, since I'd actually gotten rather attached to the character before the killing. Ahhh, the joys of mini-series.

In short order, lies start piling up. Truth becomes increasing elusive until literally the last scenes of the last show. Friends lie to each other with a facility seen in real life. That they lie to themselves is so much more fascinating. It's hard to miss the final clue to the final mystery, it's the only thing telegraphed in the whole series. Regardless, when the final blow to Cal's world-perception is brought to light, you feel so very sorry for him.

Simm and the copper played by Philip Glenister will register with any fan of Life on Mars, where they played detective and head cop butting heads. Not so much interplay here, but you can see the chemistry. Cal and Collins' wife (played by Polly Walker of Rome fame), end up in a messy, all over the floor, no-hope affair, while Collins goes through PR hell thanks to his affair with one of the murder victims. Speaking of messy, Marc Warren was on a break from starring in Hustle, and plays a hustler here that's all Rizzo with no soul.

For me, the character that really fascinated was the publisher Cameron Foster, played by Bill Nighy. The guy's brilliant in the role. He's the real hero of the story, as far as I'm concerned. He's smart, political and anarchistic all at the same time. He delivers bon mots with a straight face all of the time, all the while moving and shaking the story of the year out of his reporters.

When I worked for the Brampton Guardian (the Bramalea Guardian for most of my employ), I worked for two publishers, Bob Maxwell and Robert King. Maxwell was a newspaperman elevated to the publisher role. He thought like one and he was proud to deliver a big-time product on a small weekly budget. Whatever pre-conceived notions you have of old-time newspapermen, he fulfilled your predictions. His replacement came from the sales side. I locked horns with him frequently in my quest for the largest sports section I could grab.

And yet Robert King is the man I associate with Nighy's role here. Robert was always charming, even when saying no. He fought FOR his reporters, but only behind closed doors. He had an image as a bottom-liner to live up to, but it was all flash. Watching Nighy's Foster through the six episodes, I just saw Robert King making every joke and every hard decision. I miss the journalism of the day.

But enough inside paper stuff. This is a crackling mystery with an ill-fated love story or two. There's betrayal on so many levels as to astound you, and heroism in many places. There's humour and thrilling action. Good guys and bad guys die and infamy lives on.

It's the best thing I've seen this year.

TV: Over To You Ron .. Ron ... Ron .. RON!!!!

Surely you've seen it, if you watch any televised team sports these days. The half-time/intermission shows that used to feature studio sets with 'experts' talking to each other, analyzing the game, have moved into the stands and onto the field/floor/whatever. The experts are all bundled up against the cold, wearing fur hats big enough to cover J-Lo's butt.

You get a lot of leaning in to try and make sense of the lips moving on one of their co-workers' faces. They can't hear what is being said/asked because the morons in the background are hootin' and hollerin' for their mamas to come to the TV and see them making horse's patooties of themselves. Or maybe it's just the fur ear mufflers. In either case it makes for some occasionally funny pictures, but DREADFUL infotainment.

This phenomena is like a plague on those of us who actually WANT to hear what these experts (including some, who clearly are not) have to say. Instead of insightful analysis, we get answers to questions never posed and no answers to asked questions.

And for what? Atmosphere? Ladies and gentlemen (and I AM talking to YOU John Shannon), the atmosphere here at the Castle of Confusion is quiet and around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. A little cooler than your studio. THAT'S the atmosphere I want to share. I don't want to stand amongst the mentally-deranged and prove it. I see no reason to stand there listening to the mass gestalt of stupidity chant, curse and make strange noises. I am not drunk and have no desire to see drunks on the way to their cars to endanger people's lives.

Besides, your experts have been there before!! Most of them. Let them sit in the stands while the game is on, before hurrying down/up to the nice, quiet, temperate studio to give us the benefit of their hard-earned expertise. Inform me. It's hard deciphering Terry Bradshaw and Don Cherry at the best of times. There's a reason why Terry comes across as a goof on the field, while Cherry is held in check in a little studio by Ron McLean. It's when Cherry escapes that he sounds too much like Bradshaw.

So, unless you promised your next door neighbour's kid that he/she will get their mug on TV for the expected 15 minutes, stuff the on-field/floor/whatever sets in mothballs and get your commentators back to where they belong. In studio, predicting a big Patriot victory.