Sunday, March 30, 2008

BRIDGE: How I Came Not to Be

I wrote about Bobby Wolff's autobiography in the last post. I refer to meeting him for the second time while debuting as the Media Liaison for the American Contract Bridge League at its North American Bridge Championships, held in the spring of 1986.

How I got there was fairly amusing. It was all talk.

I was making a rare trip into Toronto to play at the Regal Bridge Studio on St. Clair. I had a sit out round and ended up yakking about the deplorable state of PR in bridge. I hated the European custom of having only first initials in names in results. Or even worse, calling women Mrs. Joe Suchandsuch. It implied her accomplishment was marrying Joe, not being good enough to be one-half of a placing pair. I wondered what my membership fees were being used for. Promotion wasn't it.

Two weeks later I got a call. Paul Cohen (Who?) was calling from Memphis, Tennessee to talk over some of my ideas for PR. Seems the Regal owner overhead my bellyaching, told a friend, who called his friend, the new Marketing Director of the ACBL, Paul Cohen. Ahhh, THAT who!

I wasn't yet 30, and neither was Cohen, although he did have the bloodlines in terms of both Bridge and in marketing. His relations were amongst the best players in the ACBL and Ralph was, at times, both the President AND the CEO. But Cohen wanted to transform the behemoth that was the aging ACBL. And he needed youngish confreres to pull it off. I was young enough. And anti-establishment enough. But I was already a 10-year media vet. Establishing that through an hour-long conversation, Paul offered me the PR gig, pending approval, over the phone. Two days later, I was leaving snowy Toronto, headed for semi-warm Memphis.

When I got there, I discovered the place was basically brown. Guess all the green grass was over in Kentucky. It was early, the warm weather was still weeks away. And not much was happening. At least it wasn't buried in 18 inches of snow, which I had just left. I stayed for two days, interrupted on the overnight stay by a fire alarm at my hotel. And I got a chance to meet the Memphis staff. I hit it off right away with Henry Francis and Sue Emery. These are two of the best people to walk the earth. Francis from up Boston way, and Emery from Texas. It amused Henry greatly that I failed to say 'Eh,' until just before I left. Until then, he wasn't sure I was an honest to goodness real Canadian. I got the job, with some proviso's.

I wanted to work out of Toronto. Done. Didn't want to dress up to do the work, but would wear ONLY ACBL T-Shirts and ballcaps. Done. Oh, and I wanted to be Media Liaison. I might want to return to honest journalism one day, and I couldn't have a PR job on my resume. Done. And the pay wasn't bad.

Eventually, it was time to be off to Portland. That meant flying. A second time. In less than a month. In every job, there is a downside. Being upside with no visible means of support, was that for me. Hated flying. My dad might be a licenced pilot, but I hated flying. Somehow or other, including visiting beautiful downtown Poccatello, Idaho, I ended up in Portland.

This is a wonderful city. And it's the most incredible city I've ever been in for a city its size. City blocks in Portland are like one building long. Walk 15 blocks in Montreal, and you'll have to take me the last third by ambulance. In Portland, five minutes tops. I really liked the city.

And I actually liked the people I was working with. Henry was there, but not Sue, if I remember correctly. The office was completed by Helen Horobetz, a gem of a lady from San Diego.

Eventually, Paul had to bring his new 'find' before the Board of Directors. Into a room filled with 25-35 largely-succcessful people, all of whom were at least 20 years older than I was. When I strolled in, it was evident by the looks of dismay that Paul's plan was not universally applauded. Looking back on it through the filter of time, I think I made 18 enemies that day, a little less than that in new friends, and pushed Paul close to being fired.

And I never convinced a single one who hated me on sight to change their minds. Not surprisingly, I never lost much sleep over it. I was, as advertised, an ex newspaperman and radio broadcaster who wanted to start getting the message out to the media that something big and fun was coming to town. And I did.

I talked a noted sports reporter into playing Bridge for the first time IN A NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP. And let the record show, Steve and I placed average. I got cameras into a Vanderbilt final for the first time. I'm not talking about ACBL cameras, I'm talking about local news photogs and cameramen. As an aside, it meant Ron Anderson hated my guts, but he was just added to the list. All in all, if Helen was telling the truth, we did as good a job at promoting and liaising with the local press as had been done in quite a few years. It's true she was too nice and might have lied, but I prefer to think she'd have kept quiet rather than lie.

Not all of the Board of Directors hated me on sight. I actually impressed a couple of them. One was the aforementioned Bobby Wolff. If nothing else we shared a love of NCAA basketball. We had another shared experience that I didn't know about at the time, but we both played a decent game of Table Tennis. He hustled bridge in college, I gamed people at the ping pong table, where unwitting foes would tangle with me whilst I played left-handed (fairly well). I would then bet them I could even beat them right-handed. Not much of a bet, since I am right-handed.

The other member of the ruling politburo that landed on my side was Tommy Sanders. He and Carol seemed quite impressed with me and openly talked about getting me over to China where they were playing a heat of the upcoming Epson World Pairs Championships to be held in The Great Hall in Beijing. I was much less enthused. Flying. Over Water. No French Fries for zillions of miles. This wasn't going to turn out well. And it didn't.

By the time I left Portland, I had dreams of doing this kind of work for a long time. The next event would be in Toronto. Couldn't screw that up. And after that, was the world championships in Bal Harbour, Florida. They filmed Superstars at the hotel. What could go wrong?

Jaime Ortiz-Patino.

After successes in Portland and Toronto, the heat was off Paul. I hadn't noticed the heat. Ignorance is bliss. And by Bal Harbour, I was a veteran at doing the job. Just a LITTLE too much ego at work.

Right off the bat, I ran into security issues. The year before, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a fake camera crew had tried to infiltrate the event. At the top levels of Bridge, there is a higher than proportional percentage of Jewish players. The fear was that a run at the event, which would also include the first meaningful involvement by Mainland China, wouldn't exactly be good press. Ergo, LOTS of negotiation on press access to the playing area. After a series of concessions, I finally got the rules straightened out and left for an afternoon of computer shopping with Jean Besse, the venerable Swiss star.

Literally, as soon as I left the hotel, Ortiz-Patino ordered the media out of the playing area. The work I had done, the relationships I had created with the local press, were snipped off. I no longer could do my job. I quit. Although it actually took me a full day to escape the place, so I did the job for a day longer than I expected to.

Several people tried to talk me out of it. Paul, of course. Henry and Freddie Sheinwold actually asked me to say, then praised me for sticking to my guns. I'd learned how to play the game initially by reading Sheinwold's seminal Five Weeks to Winning Bridge. His support was appreciated. Charley McCracken and Mike Lawrence each took their turns trying to talk sense into me. Gotta admit, you could almost infer Lawrence was happier I was 'Sticking it to the man,' than somebody trying to talk me OUT of it should have been. Lawrence was the only player who had the time to get involved. The rest were playing. Sanders and Wolff, two allies from the first day in Portland, were occupied.

In the end, I did manage to get back the Great White North, pride intact. I was unemployed. But the pride, was there to support me. I did go back to the job again. And again. But even I got the message. I could like the people I worked with, but I wasn't going to like the people I worked for. And they didn't like me. So I said, I quit for the third and last time.

I wish it had been different. I loved the job. Loved most of the people I worked with. I even consented to fly, that's how happy I was. But I just couldn't kowtow to tinpot dictators and rich folks who looked down their nose at the way I dressed, ignoring how I performed. If I'd have bent a little, I could have possibly stayed on and eventually championed my pet ideas through the political maelstrom. On the other hand, I believe the ACBL has continued to suffer an idea vacuum in the post since Paul and I left. The organization would be better off had I stayed. I believe that.

Thus it came to be. Nobody lived happily ever after.

BRIDGE: Reviewed - The Lone Wolf

Close to a quarter-century ago, I met Bobby Wolff for the second time. It was in a suite in a hotel in Portland, Oregon, where I was doing my initial turn as the American Contract Bridge League Media Liaison. Actually I was the PR guy for the North American Championships, the cause for all of us being in Portland at the time. But being the contrary sort that I am, I insisted on being a Media Liaison. I think I still harboured a not-so-secret desire to re-cross the street back to journalism. I wasn't that long removed from newspaper and radio work on the 'good' side of the street.

Bobby was, and still is, a larger than life Texan (to be fair, living near Las Vegas now, but you can't take the Texan out of 'em). He is by his own admission, somewhat lacking in interpersonal skills. Don't believe me? The Lone Wolff, his autobiography, spares no one in discussing his personal foibles and those of many in positions of power with the ACBL, my several times employer. As he relates on the very last page, "Sadly Alan (Truscott) is now gone and since there is probably no one else left who has had the good--or bad--fortune to witness as many key events as I have, I considered myself elected to that task, keeping the vow I made to him."

The task? Telling an unvarnished history of the game. The now 75-year old Wolff succeeds with remarkably little in the way of bridge hands and playing history. This isn't a bridge tutorial nor a leisurely paced list of successes. Not that Wolff couldn't fill 275 pages with that kind of material if he wanted. It's largely Wolff's look at the dark side of what passes for administration and justice in the world of Bridge, a multi-million dollar business to some, a hobby to others and an outright mystery to most of the people who would stop by here to read my ramblings.

If you aren't a tournament bridge player, this book is just wasted pulp. If you DO play tournament bridge, it's a decent read. Especially if you have had the feeling something was going on at your table, and you couldn't get the local director or even the local unit to listen to your complaints about some awfully prescient behaviour on the part of some of your opponents. (Guilty as charged)

On the other hand, if you LIVED through some of the times and events described in the book, then the book becomes a MUST read. My time with the ACBL, or more accurately, my TIMES with the ACBL, came to an end with my inability to (surprise) get along with high potentates. In my first tour, I let Jaime Ortiz-Patino, the grand poobah of the World Bridge Federation, prompt me to resign at the world championships in Bal Harbour, Florida. The second time around, it was Bill Gross, the CEO of the organization.

I wanted desperately for Wolff to outline just how big a jerk each of these kings of the kingdom were. It pains me to report he holds each in high regard, but with reservations. He felt Gross was overmatched in his job and was the wrong choice, but likes him. Ortiz-Patino is painted as the autocratic micro-manager that I found him to be, but Wolff has otherwise effusive praise for the man.

It's an honest book. Wolff does not spare himself in recanting tales of ethical lapses. In fact, he can point to a lapse early in his career that started him, not only along the path to playing success, but to becoming in many ways the too-often unheard conscious of the ACBL. He details his failures, and analyzes why they occurred. And frequently, HE and his lack of political acumen are the reason good ideas and justice died aborning.

I haven't talked to Bobby in probably 15 years. I've been totally out of the loop when it comes to ACBL politics for at least half of that. More people than I would care to note, have died during that time. It was painful to read some of the belated death notices. A lot of people I liked (and that's not the world's biggest list) make the book in the telling of their passing. Too many to be listed here. But none of the belated obituaries hit like the chapter that Bobby writes about his three wives.

His second wife, a rapturous creature named Debby, who was in that hotel room in Portland, dazzling all of us with her wit and optimism, passed away from cancer. It was difficult to read. Undoubtedly, more, much more, difficult in the writing. But the whole chapter, when looked at in retrospect, comes across as a love letter to the three women who have managed to inject just the merest hint of domesticity into the Lone Wolff. Kudos to Betsy, Debby and Judy.

That chapter isn't the only bright light in a book that can be pessimistic at times. Wolff recognizes kvetching for kvetching (and maybe a little profit) alone, isn't worth much. He discusses solutions.

But it will be the warts he shows and the pants he pulls down that will make this book the conversation topic it already is around bridge circles. If you haven't figured out, it's worth getting and reading.

If you are interested, drop a line to Judy Kay-Wolff at .

Thursday, March 27, 2008

HARDWARE: Printers and Wireless Keyboards

The latest in the saga of Dad's computer. His new printer, a Canon MP610 photo printer, and his wireless Microsoft Keyboard do not like each other.

What happens is, that if the printer is plugged in when you try to start up your computer, you get a message after awhile complaining about possibly not having the capslock correct. You cannot log in.

As it turns out, it's a power consumption problem. The newer printers steal MORE power through the USB port that the old ones did. The wireless keyboard does the same. Some of the newer computers have enough power. Some of the older printers don't require as much power. But if you hit the sweet spot in the middle, life is not so sweet.

Solutions come in two varieties. Unplug the printer and only plug it in ONCE the computer is up and running. The power conflict issue seems to be a startup issue only. Or, use a keyboard that does not need wireless connectivity. Use one that plugs directly into the computer through a cable.

SOFTWARE: Maybe It's Time to Dump ZoneAlarm

Well, it's time to think about letting go of an old favourite. ZoneAlarm has been the free software firewall of choice for a long time around here. Yet, I'm not running it on Nuklon, my main work station here in the Cave in the Castle of Confusion. Honestly, that machine is running XP's built-in firewall. Mostly, that's because ZoneAlarm screws up BitTorrent downloads, locking the machine up. And while I don't do a lot of torrent downloading on Nuklon, one lockup is too many lockups.

The other machines on my net ARE running ZoneAlarm. But my experiences with my parents' computer, documented earlier, now brings the question to the forefront. Has Checkpoint's manipulative efforts to try and get you to upgrade to a paid version of ZoneAlarm, plus the more than occasional software glitch, made dumping ZoneAlarm a serious thing to think about?

Bluntly, Yes.

The problem is that the simplicity of ZoneAlarm is very hard to beat. I know that the number of pop up dialogs (especially when I'm running a CrossLoop remote access session) is off-putting, but the fact is that they are minimal, compared to other programs. On the other hand, ZoneAlarm has been running low on the security ratings from various firewall comparison sites. What to do?

Well, let's see what Scott Finnie has to say at his fine site. Turns out Scott's done all the heavy lifting when it comes to investigating firewalls (all security products in fact). He comes down to suggesting On-Line Armour over Comodo as the product to put in place.

To be fair, the recommended On-Line Armour version is the paid one. He says the free version is JUST as capable, BUT, and it's a GIGANTIC BUT, upgrading from one minor version to another requires uninstalling your version, then installing the new version, going through ALL of the setup routine. That can be very time consuming, and not a little bit maddening. Time is money, and the OLA folks have hit on an interesting way to make you think about coughing up the 40 bucks. At the very least, trying the free version would result in a knowing decision on whether to pay the fee.

Comodo seems just as capable, is free and fires WAAAAAAY more dialog boxes at you than does ZoneAlarm. It's the uber watch dog. You have to decide whether TOO much security is too much work.

Now, BOTH products are far from install and go. I've run both. I found OLA more confusing than Comodo. But I eventually left Comodo running on a virtual machine I had set up for the testing. The reason is that I'm paying-adverse and the idea of uninstall/re-install for each OLA minor upgrade gave me the lazy chills. While I truly think Scott Finnie's research is persuasive and worthwhile, free Comodo is better than free OLA, both being worse than paid OLA.

A caution. If you have ANY worries about being able to handle the setup complexities, stay with ZoneAlarm. I only have the isolated instances of Dad's and Casey's machines to make me wonder what's going on. So I'm not issuing a fatwa on Checkpoint just yet. Close, but not yet. If you DO decide to experiment, you have to uninstall ZoneAlarm first. So download the new thing to try, uninstall ZoneAlarm, do a FULL RESTART, and then try to install the new program. Remember, you can ALWAYS go back to ZoneAlarm, if you wish.

In the meantime, at least read Scott's blog. You'll find out his dislike for security SUITES and reasons why. Plus his recommendations for the various best of breed security products, and why he likes them. His slightly techy writing style is above that of a beginner, but most of what he writes should be understandable to most of you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

SPORTS: This Just In - T.J. Starts

Doug Smith reports that T.J. Ford will start tonight in a line-up shake-up for the Toronto Raptors. To hide the fact that coach Sam Mitchell is rewarding the mini-Marbury for his desultory behaviour, the Raptors will also start Rasho Nestorovic over Andrea Bargnani in the middle.

Class gent that he is, Jose Calederon is reportedly on-board with the change, in the best interest of the team. We'll see.

Or more accurately, YOU'LL see. I've lost all desire to watch the game, myself. Bobby Wolff's autobiography arrived in the mail today and I have a review to write. Seems like the right time.

TV: Sinister Motives in On-Screen Advertising

Somewhere, sometime, a switch went on and stayed on. It's called the bug and we see it on every TV show we watch these days. And having accepted the bug, we now accept all kinds of crap covering up the screen during various shows.

Some networks, CW being the worst, have a virtual moving conveyor belt of animated semi-transparent ads running on the bottom third of the screen promoting some OTHER show on the network. That's in addition to the no longer shadowy, sometimes missing bug in the lower right-hand corner identifying the originating source of the broadcast you are watching.

Bugs began as a watermark of sorts. They used to be ghostly versions of the network logo. They'd show for ten seconds and then fade out, only to return every ten minutes or so for another run-and-fade. What they started out as, is long gone. Now they sit there in full colour obliterating the background throughout the broadcast. Usually, the station ID is right there along with it, or incorporated into it.

Having lulled the couch potatoes into complacency (now THAT'S a hard job), the broadcasters now send animations flowing over the REST of the bottom third of the screen to advertise what's coming on next, or tomorrow or later this month or ... well, you get the idea. They even, I kid you not, tell you that you are watching a new episode of the show YOU ARE WATCHING. If you need this information, technically, you have expired. Please do not get up and change the channel. Can the programming be THAT poor or so repetitive that you NEED to be told you haven't seen this before?

But, like all things that seem to have no rhyme or reason, there IS a reason to all of this inanity. Indeed, it's a financial one. And it has NOTHING to do with increasing viewership in whatever second-rate show the network has coming on after this one decent one you are watching. It's ALL about the DVD sets.

Yep, the DVD sets are already minus the commercials that interrupt the flow of the program. It's one of the reasons I've staunchly championed the purchase of sets of your favourite episodic shows. In fact, I hardly ever tune in to see even a scene of Lost or Prison Break. I wait for the DVD release and treat the show like a book.

But, here's the thing. The commercials aren't the ONLY thing you don't get in the DVD sets. You don't get those on-screen promos either. What a world of difference! No distracting green and yellow CW banners unfurling on Smallville. No Ghost Hunter promos on Stargate: Atlantis. No come-on for whatever Lifetime movie is following whatever Lifetime show I stop channel-hopping to catch a glimpse of some long-ago lusted-after actress. Nope, just the video the producers of the show intended you to see all along. Not 67 percent of the video. The WHOLE thing.

Why, it almost makes you happy to go out and plop down 40 bucks for the four disk set of the season, doesn't it?

Like I said, sinister.

SPORTS: Don't Hit the Road, Jack

It was just a day or two ago that I was writing about missing Jack Armstrong on NCAA broadcasts this year. Then Doug Smith dropped the bomb that since SportsNet (Jack's main Canadian employer) is getting out of the basketball biz, Jack might be missing from Toronto Raptor broadcasts next year, too.

That is a bad thing. A VERY BAD THING.

Jack understands that basketball is a game and that fans deserve entertainment along with pithy analysis. His homerism is refined, usually said with tongue in cheek, firmly planted, and a smile on his face. Happy Jack. He lives it. It isn't an act.

At the same time, he's a serious basketball nut. He has weight to his opinion that is buried beneath all that jocularity. Pay attention and you WILL learn something about this game. I really believe he has the best combo of knowledge, humour and delivery since Al McGuire. I know Dick Vitale's off the top and you can usually find some pearls in his hyperbole. But he just wears you out with his non-stop enthusiasm. Jack, like Al before him, won't stoop to describe chicken feathers as chicken salad.

Obviously, I would like to see Jack doing all the games that Leo Rautins does right now. That would keep him here in Canada. And if he ended up at The Score, so much the better. They do the most college games up here, anyway. Whatever it takes, we have to have Jack Armstrong on our airwaves come fall.

Let me segue to Leo Rautins. I've known Leo since he was my height, tagging along with older brother George, the best pure shooter this country might have ever produced. He could fall out of bed and hit a fifteen-footer. His career topped out at Niagara (just like Jack, come to think of it), because he wasn't the all-round player his brother was. Leo, eventually outgrew me by a foot, went off to Minnesota and then Syracuse, did the NBA failed-first round draft pick tour and then was off to Europe, where he enjoyed some success.

Coming back home, he set up shop as a commentator, teacher and eventually Canadian National Team head coach. I've seen him around kids. He's wonderful. He LIKES being around kids. He also likes teaching basketball. It's a mission for him.

And that's half the problem he presents as main analyst for the Toronto Raptor broadcasts. He continues to teach long after it's no longer necessary. Maybe in the first few years, where many Canadian fans were new to the sport, at least at the NBA level. But the people coming to the broadcasts these day know most of the stuff he prattles about incessantly. He just takes the air out of the broadcast. And in a blow out, it turns off-putting. That's when you reach for the mute button and turn on Paul Jones and Eric Smith on the radio, despite the five-second or so TV delay.

The other half of Leo's problem is his passive aggressive shtick with play-by-play man Chuck Swirsky. Swirsky is naturally ebullient, a born homer (not that that is COMPLETELY bad) and a willing recipient of many Rautins jabs during any given broadcast. Leo picks on Chuck. Most times with a velvet glove. But it's bullying no matter the manner.

Compare any game done by Leo and Chuck with a Jack and Chuck contest. Invariably, no matter the game's value as entertainment beyond the announcing, you enjoy Jack and Chuck more. If the game turns out to be a 'gimme' in Jack parlance, then the enjoyment index is markedly in Jack's favour.

Try as I might, there is no way to put this. Were I programming director of Raptor TV and/or the decision-maker for the Raptors in this area, I would be sending out a press release this summer that goes something like this:

"Given Leo Rautins growing responsibilities with Basketball Canada, he has decided to step down as the main analyst for Toronto Raptors games for this coming season. He will be switching with backup analyst Jack Armstrong, who will be doing the bulk of the Raptor games in 2008-2009. Leo will do about 20 games in all with our various broadcast partners. We wish Leo and Team Canada the best of luck in their attempts to make the Beijing Olympics via the upcoming Qualification Tournament."

A WHOLE lot of people would benefit from that PR release. Not the least of which would be you and me. Well, ME anyway.

Monday, March 24, 2008

SPORTS: Good Luck Reed

Heart and soul players make winning teams go. Sure, it would be nice if the heart and souler happens to be a good ballplayer. But every successful team needs somebody the average joe in the stands can point to and say, "I could be that guy!"

The Toronto Blues Jays had one of those guys. Reed Johnson. The Jays released him on Sunday to save something less than a couple of million bucks. As the ways of karma would have had it, the Jays immediately suffered injury for the cavalier dismissal of the one Jay that never took a play off in his life. Ever.

Scott Rolen's finger injury can't POSSIBLY be related. Right?

It's not like the Blue Jays were cutting Johnson to roster a jerk, say a Barry Bonds. Shannon Stewart is doing the Toronto thing, taking a second tour of the fair city. He's a good dude and seems to accept that he won't be a full-time patroller of left field. He's also at the end of his career. And he's not as good as Johnson. Period.

The Jay mismanagement, led by GM-in-waiting (to be fired) J.P. Ricciardi, says that it was a question of offensive ability. Stewart MIGHT, I say MIGHT, beat Johnson by 10-20 batting points on his average this year. That's maybe two hits in one hundred at bats. Fourteen for a full-time regular over a full season. One every OTHER week. Stewart will certainly hit less homers and hasn't been a threat on the base-paths for years. He won't get hit as often. I mean by being struck by a pitch. His defence is sub-standard at best, and he HAS to play left field. That means Alex Rios' occasional rest will put Matt Stairs in right field. Gadzooks!

It's the economy, stupid! Stop trying to blow smoke up my pants. I know it. The Jays know it. The fans know it.

No Jay. Not even the two imported St. Louis Cardinals, will display the joie de vivre that was a Johnson staple. His back problems from last year have made Johnson damaged goods, not just in the Jays' minds. But he'll fool everybody. He'll land somewhere with a real contender and prove indispensable. He'll get the last laugh this year. And he'll have a nice big fat reward with a decent contract sometime late this Decemeber.

Good guys do finish first. I wish Reed Johnson well.

SPORTS: Weekend's Over, Now What?

March Madness was entertaining if not profitable through the weekend. Some dark horses emerged in Davidson and West Virginia to salve the hurt of early losses by USC and Arizona. But bluntly, t'ain't enough. I am out of it, contest-wise. So it's down to just pure enjoyment.

The talking ape, Too-Much Talking Timmy on SportsNet, tried ever so hard to screw it up. But it came down to a series of great games that even HE couldn't deface. And there were some heroic performances that will stand the test of time. Davidson's Stephen Curry, the honorary Canuck (his dad played with the Raptors) stood out again. He hit for 30 last year, so his prime-time stepping up should hardly be a surprise. But coming back to beat Gonzaga AND Georgetown in similar fashion has Davidson eying the spotlight George Mason has left empty the last two years. And you know, Davidson MIGHT just be good enough to get to the final four. Such is the sublime shooting ability that Curry possesses.

Rick Majerus would not have been seen by the majority watching the CBS feed. But he brought up a great stat. The 180 Club. Basically, you take the player's shooting percentage, add it to the three-point shooting percentage and the free throw percentage. If they add up to more than 180, you are a certified shooter. The ability to be around and occasionally above that mark tends to last through school, college and into the pros. Steve Kerr had the top total on that list at 184. Reggie Miller was next with 181 and a whole bunch of current shooting hotshots were between 173 and 179. Curry? 183. He will be small for an NBA shooting guard at around 6-3, but he WILL have an NBA career. Might be a long one. I'd like to see him wearing Raptor Red in about two years.

Saturday's unsung hero was everyman Joe Mazzulla who almost triple-doubled OFF the bench! L'il Joe was the deciding factor in West Virginia's dismissal of vaunted Duke. He'll make a great motivational corporate speaker one of these days. A marvelous performance. Big Joe, as in Joe Alexander displayed a fine game that I missed completely before he starting heaving in 30-point efforts at the start of March. Besides sharing a name with local product Joey Alexander, who had a fine collegiate career and played for Canada's National Team, West Virginia Joe has the same lanky physique that had some maturing to do before catching up with the talent. Might be a bit thin and lacking range for the pro game, but Alexander sure impressed playing the college game Saturday. If he goes off and Mazzulla has a little more heroics inside him, the Mountaineers will be dangerous.

North Carolina and Kansas look like the only untroubled teams thus far. I don't see any way they don't meet in a semi-final in San Antonio. UCLA, Tennessee, Stanford, Texas and Memphis could have lost. I could argue UCLA and Stanford SHOULD have lost. Tennessee looks awfully lacking in direction right now, changing starting point guards THIS weekend. Memphis can't hit free throws to save John Calipari's job. Derrick Rose or no, Memphis is going home early. Still, you have to get a little tussle here and there before the final and both West Coast schools might benefit. Still can't believe Trent Johnson was willing to get tossed out the Stanford game. To me, that puts Stanford into the Can't Win category. Into the mix emerge Wisconsin, Washington State and possibly Louisville.

A week ago, I had UCLA over Tennessee in the final, Kansas and Texas getting Oh-so-close. But I was really backing Kansas. So, what the heck, flip Tennessee for North Carolina and keep the same script. But watch out for Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

SPORTS: I Miss Jack

Part of the delight the past few years in watching March Madness has been the always entertaining presence of Jack Armstrong on the simulcasts for SportsNet. The various hosts SportsNet used for their broadcasts weren't any great shakes, but the Happy Irishman, ex-coach of Niagara University and current Toronto Raptor analyst, always seemed to make the interludes when cutting to the studio interesting and informative. And if you smiled a bit, so be it.

Cut to this year and the new home of the Canadian rights to the NCAA Basketball Championships, The Score. Instead of Jack, we have one day of Rick Majerus. Some Sherm Hamilton, too. But negating any value they might provide is the idiotic talking head known as Tim Micallef. I'm told he's a good guy. But his performance just sets my teeth ajar.

It's silly of me to criticize anybody else's appearance, since I'm hardly Paul Newman myself. But come on, a soul patch? He's 20 years too old to try that desperate cry for attention. It looks silly. Add that to a voice that's annoying enough to cause epileptic fits and a patter that he stole whole clothe from Van Earl Wright, and then screwed it up. Given to double entendres and tortured puns, he can't JUST give you the information. I imagine he considers himself quite the poet. It's a lonely place, his mind.

And tonight, they even gave up on Majerus and Hamilton. Result? Lots of mumbling to himself, wrong information and the hope he's too tired to come back on the weekend. I don't much like Adnan Virk, but he knows basketball and he's only one-quarter as annoying as Micallef.

Actually, it's been a bad tournament for the broadcasters. Dick Engberg's been wrong a record-number of times already (two, I think). Jim Nantz hasn't performed up to par. And the CBS studio crew has been ... wrong. Seth Davis spectacularly so.

Which is too bad, because this had been an entertaining tourney to date, helped in no small part by the unprecedented sweep of the Tampa sectional by lower-seeds (12's and 13's at that) today (well, Friday). I'm gone in my pools. Even if I hit the final eight, the damage done Thursday by the USC and Arizona losses have me with no chance to win anything. Place? Sure, but there's only one prize. Still, I'm enjoying the roundball, now that the pressure is off.

You HAD to love Stephen Curry's bravura performance in leading Davidson past Gonzaga. And Roger Pelphrey did the best job I've seen in coaching in a long time, shepherding the Arkansas Razorbacks past the Indiana Hoosiers. Later that same night, Jay Wright, a normally outstanding coach, almost cost his Villanova Wildcats an upset win over Clemson. His kids bailed him out. No wind sprints for them, next practice. Seth Davis DID get the Siena upset correct, which was the biggest surprise of the day to me. It wasn't close against a Vandy team that blows hot and cold. And how sad for UConn that A.J. Price bunged up his ankle, leading to defeat at the hands of upstart San Diego. Still, the Toreros took advantage and good for them.

Friday, March 21, 2008

SPORTS: That Was a Short Dream

My hopes of winning an NCAA March Madness pool died awfully quickly. Granted, I hadn't spent a lot of time analyzing this year's field, but I thought I had found two hidden gems. USC being an Elite Eight team from the sixth seed and Arizona getting to the Sweet Sixteen from their 10th seed.


In USC's case, they came a-cropper when Kansas State's Michael Beasley got an award-winning supporting turn from Bill Walker. Still, had the Trojans' OJ Mayo gotten similar help from Taj Gibson, USC might still be on the path I predicted. Instead, Gibson's fumble-fingered approach to rebounds might have irrevocably altered his NBA destiny and Mayo might have to put his pro plans on hold. At least according to Rick Majerus. The upside of being wrong is the chance to catch the sublime Beasley in at least another college game. He's good. REAL good.

Now, I have a guilty party for the Arizona loss to favoured West Virginia. And it isn't Mountaineer star Joe Alexander or any of his mates. No, being a Toronto Raptor fan, I can finger the Wildcat coach. Bad ol' Kevin O'Neill returns to bedevil me. Yeah, I take it personally.

Obviously, Arizona has a wealth of talent. Just as obviously, the Wildcats are a bunch of very confused ballplayers. It's been blamed on the on-off-on again coaching status of Lute Olsen, set to replace O'Neill, well, now, after ceding the position to him at the start of the season to take a one-year leave of absence. That IS confusing and these are young men. But men they are.

O'Neill's need to micro-manage made him a horrible NBA coach. He's a good assistant coach, where he aids and abets, but doesn't command. Given the reins, he shows his "I'm in control" persona. I appreciate that he might be a good bloke away from the court and is well-liked and respected by his peers. Some have touted him for Coach of the Year, for pulling Arizona to a 24th-straight NCAA tournament. But that is bollocks, to quote an English copper or two. His Wildcats threw the bit. He's responsible.

Those two games were the only blemishes on my otherwise perfect report card from today. I DID get the Texas A&M putdown of Brigham Young and wasn't seduced by Baylor in their attempt to upend Purdue. I do have three upset specials today (Friday) in St. Joe's, South Alabama and Davidson. But the multi-round hit from USC and 'Zona falling early spells finito to my winning chances.

Good luck to the other eight zillion contestants out there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

SPORTS: The Last Word on Pronger

And it isn't mine.

The word is, indefensible. For the full explanation, check out Jim Kelly's column at Sportsnet.
Pronger suspension is indefensible

Nothing more to add.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

MISC: This And That

Once again, caught in the work trap. Here goes come miscellania.

I like Mark Cuban. The Dallas Maverick-owner/HDNet TV mogul is accessible and writes a thought-provoking blog. Today, he rags on Leonard Shapiro for a column dissing Mixed Martial Arts, a staple of HDNet. Mark takes offense to Leonard's belittlement of the 'legitimized' assault and battery that is MMA. Mark's wrong, Leonard's right. The sport used to be called Christians vs. Lions in the old Roman days. Taking delight in having one human batter another into unconsciousness is demeaning.

I've heard the young lad who plays the gender-confused youngest on The Riches has had a growth spurt. If that stops the cross-dressing, it stops the weakest story angle on the show. The good will be get better. Yippee!

The Houston Rockets lost to Boston last night, ending a 22-game winning streak. As nature's balance attempts to be restored, betcha the Rockets go out and lose at least the next four, and it wouldn't be surprising if a double-digit losing streak is on the books.

Toronto Raptors, as presently constituted, are a Chris Bosh away from fighting Orlando or Cleveland for a berth in the Eastern semi-finals. Without Bosh, one of Atlanta, New Jersey or Toronto will miss the playoffs. And it ain't the first two. Consider Bosh the anti-Ford. Bosh's fellow Texan committed the ultimate selfish act in Monday night's loss to Utah and is done as a Raptor at season's end. He can't wrap his GIGANTIC ego around the fact he ain't as good as Jose Calderon, doesn't deserve to be a starter and isn't good enough as a backup to play ahead of 102-year old Darrick Martin. Once again, I state the obvious, he's Stephon Marbury in a smaller suit.

Big season ahead for the Toronto Blue Jays' Dustin McGowan. Shaun Marcum? Not so much. In fact, Jesse Litsch will have better stats. The other Blue Jay no-no will be Frank Thomas. The smart thing would be platoon him with Matt Stairs until about mid-June. That's when the Big Hurt warms up. It's been that way three years running (at least the last three FULL years). And Thomas' Spring Training performance suggests nothing will change this season.

Mike Wilner's man-crush on Blue Jay GM J.P. Ricciardi has always been off-putting. Added to his hate on for Gord Ash ... well it's nauseating. Did some research on the drafting record of the two GMs in their first six seasons and I will eventually find time to write it all up. Hint: The new guy is NOT as good as the guy he replaced. It'll have to wait until I can get the trading record to guild the lily.

I wear two different sets of glasses, depending on the task. It'll be three after the next visit to my schoolmate, Rick Thompson. Yep, separate sets for reading, working on the computer and just plain living. They sure see me coming!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

TV: The Riches

Yeah, The Riches are coming back tonight for the first episode of their second season.

Boooooo. Earliest I can probably watch the episode is 20 days from now.

Who said I couldn't keep it short?

Monday, March 17, 2008

SOFTWARE: AVG and ZoneAlarm Mutating

I have long been a proponent of both AVG for Anti-virus protection and ZoneAlarm for firewalls for most unsophisticated users. Both have the charm of being free, while both hope you will want more than their free service and will upgrade. I use AVG myself. The free version.

Somehow, lately, there have been attempts to hoodwink some of you. And the result for me is TWO different crashed computers that I think were trashed by updating these two programs.

Let's start with AVG, which has released a new 8.0 version, available right now in a 'free' 30-day trial version. Apparently, there WILL be a release of AVG 8.0 Free sometime in the next three months.

AVG Free 8.0 FAQ

So, you should be able to live with the 7.5 that you have been using. An update to the program core of that release came out as recently as March 11th. You SHOULD be able to use it and get the daily updates as you always have--until it's time to upgrade to 8.0. I know Patrick has found that his 7.5 install is NOT updating anymore. So he's TRYING out 8.0. Most of you SHOULD not be faced with this upgrade or else scenario. 'Cept some are upgrading already. And that's troubling.

First, the trial is actually the full AVG security suite. I actually prefer to use dedicated tools for each of the usual tasks, virus protection, firewall, spam-blocking and spyware scanning. I actually use different products for all four tasks. I do NOT want a suite, thank you very much. And I hope you won't be tricked into getting this one. And it's not because I don't trust the quality of AVG. I have no idea whether v8 is any good. Too early to tell.

But, one of the sure recipes to disaster is to have two programs trying to protect you from the same threat at the same time. Bodyguards don't always place nice in these circumstances. It can lead to disaster.

I am, in fact, now wondering if AVG is tangling with AdAware AdWatch in stopped Casey's computer from running at all. It would answer a lot. This computer has cost me lots of sleep over the last two days.

It's not the only one. My Dad's computer decided to create a brand-new account for him on the weekend. It accepted his old name and password on booting, but he was no longer operating on the account set up for his name. Not even on the one that is his name plus 16 digits of random characters that suddenly got created last December. Now, it's his account, plus the 16 digits, PLUS '.000.'

And I have no better idea why it happened on the weekend then I did when responding to the first instance three months ago. Strike that, I think ZoneAlarm is somewhere near the responsible party.

Dad's browser suddenly developed an extra toolbar devoted to the ZoneAlarm SpyBlocker utility. Dad doesn't need it. He runs Firefox and has the NoScript add-in turned on. He has to actively ALLOW scripts to run. He also runs Adblock and StopAutoplay. In other words, NOTHING this update to ZoneAlarm could help. Co-incidentally, it updated and he lost his account. I truly wonder if an earlier update was the culprit back in December.

Users have long been aware that ZoneAlarm has some nasty habits when updating the program core. If you have manual updating turned on, each upgrade turns it back off. But now there's another negative option that you have to pay attention to. During that install, look for the spyware blocker toolbar and UNCHECK it.

The result of NOT doing so, COULD be a huge hit on my time.

By the way, I have made some modifications to my recommended list for living on the internet. Of course, you should be using Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. You simply cannot make the latter secure. Pick an email program OTHER than Outlook. I use both Eudora AND Thunderbird. With Add-Ins, Thunderbird can do a LOT of what Outlook touts as its advantage. AVG remains the suggested Anti-virus program, but the past few days has me wondering if a switch to AVAST! might not be ahead. Comodo Firewall Pro (free, despite the name) is looming as ZoneAlarm's replacement. It's not as easy to use, but I'm feeling awfully leery about ZoneAlarm anymore. Get rid of AdAware. No longer recommended. Pair Spybot Search and Destroy with Spyware Blaster.

I cannot tell you for certain that AVG or ZoneAlarm bear ANY responsibility for my lost weekend. But I will tell you two things. It won't take but one more puzzling situation for me to stop using these products. And I'm going to be doing a thorough back up of ALL my computers this week.

SPORTS: THE Bracket Winners

Okay. Work, family situations and sheer tiredness means I'm giving short shrift to the deep analysis of this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Championships brackets released Sunday night.

Last I reported, I wanted Kansas to win, but had to predict AGAINST them to see the Jayhawks emerge victorious. I had UCLA beating Tennessee in the final, with Kansas and USC making up the rest of the final four. That can't happen now, cuz Kansas and USC will meet in the Midwest regional final. Oh well.

So, here's the gut prediction (and I won't have time to do much more this year). UCLA beats Xavier to win the West, and then beats Texas, who will beat Memphis in the South final. I know that goes against my prior prediction that Memphis will lose in an odd round, but I don't see anybody doing it before then.

On the other side, Tennessee (bet you can guess where I am going), will dunkirk North Carolina's title dreams in the regional final, setting up the match with Kansas, who will beat USC.

In San Antonio, Tennessee ends Kansas hopes (fingers crossed, or are they UNcrossed. Hmmmmmm). UCLA then turns Texas's dream of having one Big 12 team in the final into a nightmare. And there we have it. UCLA beats Tennessee 82-77 to win it all.

You're welcome.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

LIFE: Why I Will Never Own a Cell Phone

I was talking to Casey Slack on Friday night. Various subjects came up including my first computer, a VERY low serial number Apple ][ computer. I still have it. I doubt that it'd start up and run, mostly because I don't have an old black and white TV to attach it to. Maybe one of these days.

Back in the day, that Apple was a $5,000 purchase. Actually, slightly more than that, and only a grand less than my relatively new car at the time had cost me to drive off the lot. Before that, I had begged, borrowed and, to be honest, stole time on big main-frame computers at York University and the University of Toronto. Most of the programs then were BASIC programs written on mark-sense cards. Computer geeks weren't geeks in those days. Carrying long boxes of cards to and from the computers took some physical effort. The joke was that you could tell a programmer by his longer carrying arm. Okay, not so funny.

I also was the first in the school to have an electronic calculator. I was probably the earliest owner of a VCR on my block (bought to record ABBA in Australia) and I certainly was the first to have three or more of the things running. I probably fit the bill as a gadget freak.

And yet, I do not own a cellular telephone. Never have. Have my doubts that I ever will. I also don't have a bank card, only reluctantly use a credit card for purchases I make remotely and CANNOT do in person, and I have rotary dial service on all of my phones at home. That's right, the technogeek doesn't even have touch-tone service.

Those of you who DID switch when touch-tone came in decades ago might forget that it cost money to make the switch back then. I wasn't in the movies, so being able to dial quickly wasn't important. SIDEBAR: The push-button phone is one of the most important inventions in the HISTORY of Hollywood. Prior to the advent of push-button phones, scenes with characters dialing would take ten seconds or more, instead of a second or two. Eight DEAD seconds of movie time is a very expensive eight seconds. Hollywood LOVES the push-button phone, unless filming a period piece. Then, the property master has to go round and dig up some of the black Bell beauties. Oddly enough, MY lone remaining old-fashioned phone has more than earned its keep as a rental property. END OF SIDEBAR

I also didn't need services like Call Display. If I'm home, I answer the phone. If the phone cuts to an answering machine, I AM NOT AT HOME. Maybe indisposed you ask? No, NOT AT HOME. I have a phone in EVERY room in the house, including two in the kitchen, one in the basement and in BOTH bathrooms. I will NOT be indisposed. Unlike people who curse the air blue when caught in the bathroom with a phone ringing in another room, I have no such problem with making decisions.

You ask what about services like Call Waiting? Near as I can figure, about half the attempts to take advantage of call waiting go like this. "Oops, there's another call coming through. Let me see who it is. I'll get right back to you." Click. "Hello, hi, oh it's you. Guess they hung up."

I think every call I'm on is important, no less nor more important than another. I think it's rude of me to prioritize. That's just me. I have no problem with other people doing it to me, since I tend to ramble. Shutting me up can be a chore. If it takes somebody else calling in, so be it. But I wouldn't want to do it to other people. And if it is an emergency call, they'll keep calling till they DO get through. Simple. No cost, either.

The anti-cell phone phobia extends beyond the money. I once got one for Christmas, despite making my preferences not to have one quite plain. It was given in love, and returned with a certain lack of graciousness I regret to this day. But I won't have one. Basically, I don't want a phone going off when I'm driving down the highway with gigantic trucks doing 100 klicks an hour on either side. THAT is called a recipe for deadly accident. I don't want to turn off the alarm and suddenly have something kicking up a storm in my pocket either. I have a LOT of quick-twitch fibre in my muscles when I'm surprised.

No, the safest way for me to arrive alive, is NOT to be suddenly startled by a phone. Besides, it's not like I'm out all that often. It's mid March and I have gas in my car from DECEMBER of last year. If it wasn't for a trip north this week, I'm pretty sure I would have gotten to April 1st. At least. All with the same 40 bucks of gas I stuck in the tank the week before Christmas. There's been an illness in there, but I've largely been a stay-at-home, phone-accessible body for all that time.

I'm perfectly happy being a technology troglodyte slash expert.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

BOOKS: Dinner-Time Reading

I've come by my curmudgeonly ways honestly, having started quite early in life. There was an affection for golden oldies/soft rock station CFRB as my radio station for life ... until The Fan 590 All-Sports radio arrived. There was the fact I skipped family vacations to do my own thing while still a tween. And I've sat apart from my family at the dinner table since before I needed two whole hands to figure out my age.

Mostly, the apart thing came from my incessant need to read. Cereal boxes at breakfast, newspapers at lunch and comic books or the like at supper. It was just me and my reading material propped up in front of me. I sat at the kitchen counter, allowing the four seats at the kitchen table to be filled by Mom, Dad, Wayne and Rick. Being the eldest child, I got first dibs on the big stool.

Now living alone in the same house, I have the kitchen table all to myself. I have set up an easel with the reading material of the day sitting there, ready to read. It's a concession to my aging eyes. I have to have it up closer to my nose now, as opposed to laying flat on the countertop when I was a kid.

Over the years, I've refined my reading habits. For the longest time, meals meant catching up with the weekly edition of The Sporting News, to be parceled out into roughly 14 reading sessions. (I had long ago stopped eating breakfast). On the occasions where the News would run short of the proscribed reading amount, or that I was having a midnight snack or two, then The Hockey News or Sports Illustrated served as a stopgap.

This worked for a long time. But then two things occurred. First, the postal system started mangling OR losing issues of TSN. The losing was the bigger of the two problems. I'd complain, get my subscription extended, but I'd be without the needed reading material. Sometimes, I'd have to read textbooks just to tide me over. Oh, the horror of it! A week or two later, I'd get two, sometimes three, and in one memorial week, FOUR issues of the weekly magazine. The hoard would be carefully cultivated to carry me through what I knew would be another fallow period in the near future.

The internet arrived and suddenly TSN and The Hockey News were no longer worth the money to subscribe. I wasn't getting anything new in their pages and the features weren't worth the money. But I STILL needed reading material.

Bridge magazines.

I have stacks and STACKS of bridge magazines. Turns out a fading memory is a boon. Reading issues from the 50's turned out to be like a brand new reading experience. Sure, I remembered SOME of the stories (I'd read them in the 80's, not the year I was born!), but the specifics were entertaining. I could compare the mechanics of bridge a half-century ago to how bridge is played today. Some of the problems that plagued players of that era, would be trifling issues to today's players.

It turned out, I had enough reading material to probably get 20 years of re-reading out of, one meal at a time. I've managed to get through the Goren age and am now up to the late 70s (when I was contributing to magazines myself in the U.S. and in India). And now, some of the stories are REALLY familiar.

I laughed out loud when I turned the page of the Bridge Magazine from Britain and saw the Victor Mollo article, The Hideous Hog and the Chartreuse Coup. I've read that one in magazine form in periodicals from BOTH sides of the Atlantic. It's also in book form at least twice, as I have two different editions of Bridge in the Menagerie. I remembered the hand and the story all too well. It was delightful.

Right now, working through Bridge Magazine issues from that decade, I'm reliving the exploits of Mollo's menagerie and the Wilson stories by P.F. Saunders. Soon, it will be time to start on the 80s editions of Bridge World from the US and a bunch of New Zealand Bridge Digests.

I look forward to each meal, as much for the nourishment as for the entertainment.

Friday, March 14, 2008

BLOGGING: I Could Use An Editor

This blog doesn't have an editor and won't ever get one. But it could use one.

The fact is, that this is, more or less, the computerized equivalent of talking to myself. The original idea was to get so angry at something that I just HAD to spew here to release the pressure. Then, I got into writing the novel and I used that as an excuse not to write here. Then, this blog to hide from the writer's block that reared its ugly head over at the book window.

Trying to kick the block, I decided I'd write EVERY day. And since new ideas weren't coming fast enough on the book, it was back to writing here to keep the typing fingers limber.

Still, I need an editor. Always have.

When I was getting started at The Guardian, I would occasionally decide I knew how to spell a certain word better than the rest of the world. One case was Optician. We had a slew of Opticians in town sponsoring various sports teams. Typing up the weekly minor sports results, I might type Opticians ten times in an evening. I knew how to spell Opticians. Hell, I've been wearing glasses since I was five years old.

But some night, I just decided to start spelling it Optitions. Monday morning, I was back in school and my editor Ken Giles went through all the copy I'd done over the weekend and corrected each mis-spelling. Then he forgot about it. The next weekend, I repeated my little adventure in Wacky Words Land. This time, he called me at home on Monday night.

"How do you spell Opticians?" he asked. I rattled off the correct spelling.

"Hmmm," he continued, "That's not how you've been typing it the last two weeks." I laughed at the joke. Surely he jested. Then I put the phone down and mimed the keystrokes. Darned if he wasn't right.

There have been other words over the years, including the names of cities like Winnipeg and St. Catharines, that I mis-spelled perpetually. But mis-spelling isn't the main bane of sloppy writing (and yes, I originally typed slopping writing!).

It's the words that the writer THINKS are there, that aren't, that's the biggest bugaboo. Truly, I DO read over the post before hitting the publish button. But I KNOW what's supposed to be there, so that's what I see. Simple as that. The screen images don't make it all the way back to the cortex, before I've decided I've seen enough to know that the pearl of wisdom I just formed, is perfectly formed. It's YOUR eyes that you can't believe.

Just kidding.

So, I don't sweat the small stuff with the column. There are spelling booboos and grammatical inconsistencies. Some of the latter are intentional. I know the rules and CHOOSE to break them. I ramble at times and I don't always have a good wrap-up, but I try. Words and letters occasionally get left out. And I get vague with the exact time and date and such, cuz it's just too difficult to do the research to get it pinpointed exactly. If I say early 80's, I'm pretty well safe for any date between January 1, 1980 and sometime in May of 1984. Or so I figure.

No question, I DO need an editor. Just don't bother applying.

SPORTS: Close Encounters of the Steroid Kind

Back when I was a sports reporter for the Brampton Guardian (the Guardian no longer offering separate editions for both sides of town), one of my favourite sports to cover was track and field. Part of the allure was the three-ring circus approach. So many things going on, all at the same time.

Another aspect was the uniqueness of two of the disciplines of the sport: Pole vaulting and high-jumping. They are, to the best of my knowledge, the only sports that end in failure. Ross Goheen, the pole vaulting guru at Bramalea Secondary School mentioned that to me one day, and it's stuck to this very moment.

At any meet, I would spend as much time at the high jump pit as I could. I know most people would congregate at the finish line. BSS, my alma mater, always had the high seats at the finish line for events at Etobicoke Centennial Stadium. Even after graduation, I'd prefer to be with them, rather than up in the press box. But I'd abandon them in a New York second, once the high jumping would start.

Getting back to the incident that prompted the head on this post. Early in the 80's, I was at the Toronto Maple Leaf Indoor Games, held annually at the venerable old Gardens back then. The money-paying, attention-grabbing, international-filled events went at night. The afternoon was billed as the Provincial Indoor Championships. That particular afternoon, I spent most of time down in the infield. It was a great vantage point.

It was also a popular one. Security was not very tight, and getting into the infield was a very good deal. You'd be feet away from the runners pounding the boards of the banked track. I know racing car enthusiasts rave about the SOUNDS of their sport. If it's anything like the sounds at an indoor track meet, they might have something.

Naturally, small clusters of VIPs, night-time athletes and the media formed at various points. I found myself in a group centred around Mort Greenberg, the famed CBC cameraman, charitable fund-raiser supreme and one of the most knowledgeable sports journalists working in the biz. What, or who, Mort didn't know, didn't count.

The point of interest for our small group was an attempt by Natty Crooks to bust the Canadian high school indoor High Jump record. It was, at the time, a little bit over seven feet as I recall. And I believe the holder of the record at the time was Milt Ottey, who happened to be part of our little discussion group. I think Mark McKoy was there as well. And so was Ben Johnson.

If the court records are accurate, then Ben was already using stuff by then. In retrospect, a lot of signs were evident. His complexion was bad. He'd muscled up pretty well already. But his eyes might have been the biggest tell-tale. There was a yellowish tinge to them. Not glow-in-the-dark cat's yellow eyes. But not white. There I was, standing right next to the biggest story in the world about five years later. and I was clueless.

Ben did stutter, so he tended to smile, nod agreement and disagreement and laughed a little Peter Lorre-like laugh. It was a pretty amiable group of track fans, some of whom would become famous. Well, everybody but me.

The conversation was mostly directed at Ottey who was 'about to lose his record.' Milt took it pretty well. The reason was that everybody in the track world thought very highly of Crooks. If he'd lived to see his full adult life, Crooks might have grown up to be a Chris Bosh-like citizen. Tall, talented and liked by just about everybody. His passing was one of the great losses to the Canadian Track and Field scene.

And the funniest thing was that he failed that day. He didn't break the record. He won, and he failed. That's the uniqueness of the event. And I prefer to remember that day for his victory. Not for his failure. And certainly not for failing to detect within Ben Johnson a whole different kind of failure.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

SPORTS: It's All About Blood

Bob McCown spent a session of his radio show on The Fan 590 today talking with Jack McCallum about McCallum's article on drug use in sports for Sports Illustrated.

McCown seemed awfully frustrated with what he sees as a growing give-up attitude in the war against performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sports. While it might not be accurate to say that McCallum shares the "Can't Beat'em" attitude, he did set off McCown. In this case, McCown's right.

HGH, Human Growth Hormone, and it's slightly chemically-altered cousins, is the current drug of choice when it comes to cheating detection. Right now, there is no effective test for it ... in urine. As soon as they develop one, and millions of dollars are being spent on that very goal, something else will take its place atop the heap of helpful cheats.

In reality, the flaw is the continued desire by governing bodies to skirt the line of respecting athlete's privacy. No, they won't mandate blood testing. Yes, they will mandate random tests wherein the tested athlete disrobes in front of an inspector and pees into a bottle. Hardly dignified. You can't have it both ways. Either you want a drug-free sports world, or you don't. Dignity and body be damned.

The ONLY way to catch drug cheats is blood testing. Simple as that. I don't know the whole efficacy of blood testing, but I know it's a zillion times more inclusive that is urine. Drugs CHANGE blood chemistry for a period of time, before being absorbed into their basic building blocks. And variants cause those same changes. That means you can't make a living by offering athletes steroids that are one or two atoms off from the original ... and thus not detectable for the very specific tests being used today. It if acts like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it's probably from the same drug family.

If I became sports czar for a sport like track and field, the drug-testing would be all year round. Base profiles would be taken of athletes to establish what is normal for their body. The same blood would be run through a battery of tests to see if the athlete was ALREADY getting enhanced. Then, periodically, the athlete would get called to give up a few CCs of blood (I'm not expert enough to know how much). When it comes to a major event, Olympics or World Championships, the athletes would queue up to donate blood at least 48 hours BEFORE they participated. Gotta give them time to recover from the blood-letting.

All medal-winners, the first runner-up and one other random participant, would all get to donate blood apres-event. The reason you do the fourth-place finisher is that you have to be sure you aren't replacing one cheat with another, if you catch one of the medalists and have to give him, her or them the boot.

If you've ever been in a drug-testing centre at a sporting event, you will be surprised to discover just how involved the process is for taking urine tests. The athlete is often completely exhausted, frequently verging on the edge of dehydration. They have given it their all. Juice, water, tea, even beer. It's all there in an attempt to generate some liquid waste. The donation itself is relatively private, if you count having an observer watching your privates as you donate, 'private.'

Wouldn't it be better to have a trained medical professional there to take a blood sample and let you get back to celebrating. It would take five minutes tops. One athlete I know, once took 2.5 hours to fill his cup.

Blood tests won't STOP PEDs and their insidious influence on sports, and their increasing destructive influence on young kids who want to use sports to better their lot in life. They'll put a big crimp on the current state of the art cheating. That said, before taking a leak on the idea, consider who'd win, if we did start using better testing methods to catch the cheats.

Yep, you and me. The people who play fair. Who play by the rules.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SPORTS: Raptors Stayed Close, So What!

After watching the Toronto Maple Leafs pull out all the stops to try and creep two points closer to the Philadelphia Flyers, holders of the final playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference, it was dismaying watching the Toronto Raptors play "closies count as a moral victory" against the Los Angeles Lakers in the nightcap NBA game.

The Raptors basically kept the game between six and ten points almost all the way to the finish line. A good performance. In some quarters, ball hog T.J. Ford will be lauded for his indomitable will and 20 plus points. As usual, he took 20 plus shots to get there. Bahh!

What gores my ox was the final two minutes. Trailing by six, the Raptors went inside. Then let the Lakers dribble out a few seconds before fouling lamely. The scene repeated itself three times. Needing three-point buckets, the Raptors (meaning Ford), kept getting the semi-easy two-point shots and then fouling Bryant with all the urgency of a fat man at an all-day buffet.

At NO time in the final three minutes or so, did it look like Toronto was doing anything OTHER than trying to keep it respectable. Whatever the decision-making process, that stinks. I don't care that there is a game tomorrow (actually tonight, now) in San Francisco. I don't care if it was odds on that the Lakers would make their free throws and hold onto the lead. I don't care if it would spoil a really good game-long effort to have a final score with Los Angeles winning by 15-20 points.

Damn the torpedoes, full effort ahead. The best 3-point shooting club in the league should have been giving it the old long-distance try. Trading three for two (and the occasional one) was the only way to win. They just didn't try.

And that stinks.

SPORTS: Hats Off to Leafs

Not being a Toronto Maple Leaf fan, it's hard to admit, but there are other Maple Leaf employees to admire beyond Mats Sundin.

The Leafs turned in a spirited effort to come from behind in the third period and beat the Philadelphia Flyers tonight and it was as good a period of hockey as I've seen in many a moon. Mind you, they didn't actually WIN the game in the third period. But scoring three, coming close to a fourth and then potting the fourth in the OT period was full entertainment value.

Of course, Sundin had a big hand in making the 3-0 Flyer lead seconds into the final frame disappear. Scored the goal that proved Martin Biron WAS human, on a night where the Philly netminder made 51 saves. His face-off win led to the second Leaf goal and for all I know, he whispered instructions to Jeremy Williams on where to shoot on Biron, Williams being the game-tier.

The other Leaf guy I want to single out is Paul Maurice, the coach. By every person's opinion who I have talked to, Maurice is the kind of man you hope your daughter brings home to meet the family. He exudes calm and dignity, even when internally seething. When asked what he was thinking during one galling Leaf loss earlier this season, he reflected a second, answered, "Mostly profanity," and walked calmly away.

I actually think he's about average as a coach. I've seen worse, lots that are better. But few handle the media with a polite frankness that makes me wish he had better soldiers to go to war with. On the other hand, I have no confidence he'd actually take advantage. He seems to be too good of a guy. I would have said he also lacks moxie, but he pulled his goalie in a TIE game tonight, trying to win AND deny Philadelphia an extra-time loser's point. Tonight, if not all nights, he HAD moxie.

Maurice is unlikely to return next year. I thought the same of Sam Mitchell in his final contract year, and look how prescient THAT prediction was! He's a young guy and somebody will give him another chance.

OR he can make a move that I think benefits him for the rest of his life. He'd make a first-rate TV analyst. With the turmoil that is the CBC right now, I bet an opportunity opens up for him. I hope he takes it.

He still has a bit less than a dozen games to coach this edition of the falling Leafs. I wish him well. It won't end well, but he should go out with the same dignity, tenacity and, dare I say it, moxie he showed tonight.

Monday, March 10, 2008

BOOKS: Robert J. Sawyer

One of the wonders of the World Wide Web is the ability to happen upon a new site. Such a site is, wherein lies an interview with Robert J. Sawyer.

Now, I am an unabashed admirer of Sawyer's work. I happened upon the Quintaglio Trilogy many moons ago and subsequently have gobbled up everything in long form he's ever written. It helps to have a brother connected to the writing business (he shares accommodations with one of the 30 most influential people in publishing in Canada). That gets me autographed Sawyer books for Christmas and my birthday, as Sawyer's publishing schedule permits.

I'm not actually gaga over signed first editions. I have some. Some very valuable ones. But I ask my extended family to sign the books they give me because I treasure THEIR autographs more than that of the writer. I KNOW it lessens its worth. Don't care. It's not the signing thing that makes the Sawyer book such a treasure, anyway. It's the fact that I'm getting it VERY SOON AFTER PUBLICATION.

As I said, Sawyer's work shines in that it makes me think. He is a writer of ideas. I know he thinks of himself as more than that (read the interview. I think it's illuminating), that he adds characterization to those ideas. But frankly, I read his work FOR the ideas. He joins James Hogan and Charles Sheffield as guys who's work demands slower reading.

Still most of his books give the ol' characterization bit a good effort. It's not that he fails, it's just that it doesn't meet his own self-generated (and maybe self-believed) hype all the time. Sawyer is a hard-working SF professional who pops up on TV and the internet regularly. He's the FACE of SF in this country. In fact, he might even be THE futurist, when it comes to other media looking for 'expert' opinion about what's going to happen five minutes from now.

So, I can forgive him the need to puff his chest so often, as long as he continues to pump out fiction that makes me stop, stare at a page and imagine, what if ...

Sunday, March 09, 2008

SPORTS: Impending March Madness

So, who do you like in the NCAA's?

Heard that question twice last week and had to answer, truthfully, that I didn't know. The scuttlebutt was that a North Carolina title win over UCLA would surprise no one. But I had been less than impressed with both teams in the few games I'd seen them play this year. Not sure things have changed much after yesterday's interesting day of play.

The highlight was the nightcap, UNC's big win over Duke AT Duke by eight points. It was really a four-point game with add-on free throws, but it was a telling victory in a lot of ways. I don't think either team is a lock final four squad.

North Carolina got out to a big first-half lead, blasting the Dukies on the boards and guarding the three-point shot that Duke loves so much. A perfect template for an athletic perimeter team with good rebounders. Such teams exist in the NCAA and Duke will meet a couple of them on the way to the final four. That will end their trip prematurely, I think.

However, in the second half, Duke showed the way past North Carolina, rallying to tie and then to actually take the lead on their home court. This is why the crazed fans camped out in front of Cameron Indoor Stadium starting in DECEMBER, to get seats to this game. The passion and the beauty of the collegiate basketball game, all wrapped up into one spectacular night. Duke also supplied the template for beating North Carolina. Avoid turnovers and treat Tyler Hansbrough with respect, but no deference. The Tarheel free-throw leader, Hansbrough often gets fouled by zealous shot blockers. The Blue Devils chose to contest his shots without fouling. Turns out, that's a good idea.

It came down to an end-of-game cold spell by the Duke three-point shooters, Gerald Henderson being the key-turner for the final minute. The week before, Tyrese Rice of Boston College had almost three-pointed the TarHeels out of the number one ranking himself.

Nope, North Carolina needs a fully-healthy Ty Lawson back before I'm ready to anoint them as the faves. They have comeback ability, and that's good. But if last night's performance by the undersized Duke front line is any indication, the leading factor in the Tarheels' dominance this year has a downside.

What about UCLA? Two narrow wins this week either show UCLA can win close ones or that they are playing down to the opposition. The win over Cal yesterday was as contentious as was the win over Stanford. Different set of officials might have turned both of those wins into losses. On the other hand, the ridiculous rule against shooting from behind the backboard is one of basketball's true head-scratchers. If you extend the basket INTO the playing court area, then why not mark on the floor where you CAN'T SHOOT FROM! Josh Shipp's shot hit nothing but net. Against the rules or not, it was a great play.

Still, you get the feeling that UCLA is all about health. Fully healthy, THIS is the team to beat. But can it get healthy?

The other top teams, including Memphis, Tennessee, Kansas and Texas all have flaws. I used to ride Florida in the NCAAs, but got off the bandwagon JUST in time for the Gators to win a pair of titles. I've been bandwagon jumpers with Kansas AND Texas the past few years. My gut tells me Kansas can't win, but they are getting healthy at the right time and I think Brandon Rush is one of the under-rated players in the country. If I say no way, count on Kansas enjoying some home cooking while winning it all.

John Calipari, only the second coach to ever win 30 plus games in three straight years, is the reason I'm down on Memphis. He just finds ways to lose in final fours (or earlier). The Dribble Drive Motion offence he's run this year surprised lots of teams early. Given time and now copious amounts of film to analyse, I just see his team getting stopped. Derrick Rose is a star in the making, but rookie point guards always give me a chill, Mike Bibby notwithstanding.

Tennessee was not far off a title last year and could come back. I hate that they took over the top seed in the country and then handed it right back two days later by losing to Vanderbilt, not that Vandy isn't capable of beating any team in the country on a given night. A big clutch win in the NCAA's might give their next opponent an opportunity to take advantage of a sluggish start. This combo is all too likely.

Texas is too young overall.

So, what about surprise teams. USC looked like world-beaters yesterday. I don't understand how an elite eight team from last year could lose a couple of guards to the NBA, BUT add O.J. Mayo and NOT be considered a title threat. Obviously, there's been some growing pains. But Mayo's the real deal. If you wanted somebody from the back of the pack, you could do a lot worse than place a long-shot bet on the Trojans.

I don't think Arizona is healthy enough to make it a trio of West Coast title threats. Nobody from the Pacific Northwest will contend. Moving to the Central states, Texas A&M wins and loses, often by big scores. Baylor's a nicer story than a threat. Michael Beasley's a beast, but only has Bill Walker for company on a Kansas State team that is not title threat at all. And won't be next year, with Beasley having been drafted number one overall in the NBA draft.

The Big Ten is basically Wisconsin, wounded Indiana and some over-achieving wannabes, like Purdue. Wisconsin is a team no one wants to play, but everybody thinks they can beat. Somebody will be right. Indiana's wounds are largely self-inflicted after the resignation of coach Kelvin Sampson. Can Dan Dakich match Steve Fisher and take over a NCAA titlist late in the season? No. But catch Eric Gordon in Indiana colours while you can.

Georgetown won the Big East over Louisville yesterday. It's been a down year for the conference and Georgetown hasn't exactly dominated this year. I thought they might, but it didn't happen. Wouldn't surprise me to see three Big East teams in the elite eight, or none. I DO think USC's east-coast equivalent might very well be UConn, where the Huskies are surprising lots of people by sitting starters and winning. Hasheem Thabeet is looking more like Dikembe Motumbo and less like Manute Bol. And you can't argue Jim Calhoun's coaching creds.

Mid-Majors have been surprises that last couple of years. Xavier seems to have taken over Gonzaga's role this year as the team nobody respects, but fears. They play tough basketball. The question is, can they play with the big boys? I'd say yes, but I haven't seen the evidence to back that up. Elite eight and a close miss for the final four.

Sooooo, who do I like in the NCAA's this year. I could give Kansas the kiss of death and call for them to beat UCLA in the final, or I could let them rest easy and predict UCLA over Tennessee in the final, with Kansas and USC filling out the final four. That feels about right.

But I really want the Jayhawks to win.

LIFE: The Snow's ALL My Fault

Yep, I caused the snow to fall in record amounts in Toronto this year.

What's that? Messianic delusions? Nope. Plain ol' economics.

See, I've been paying for snow removal in advance for most of the last decade. I financed most of Nigel Jokhu's college education for the ability to not have to even look out the window. I knew the driveway would be shoveled free of the white stuff before I arose in the late hours of the morning. I also knew he farmed out the job to his family on more than one occasion. None of my business how he went about HIS business. I was only interested in results.

Over the years, the numbers on the October 1st cheque got larger and larger. Since the service was largely perfect, I didn't mind the pay raises. But the snow stopped falling despite the yearly increases and there was a point where I figured I was paying several HUNDRED dollars per snow removal. At that point, I decided to reconsider the whole plan.

I mean, it had gotten so ridiculous two years ago, that I distinctly remember him driving by my snowless landscape and grinning, knowing it was unlikely he had any early-morning work ahead of him for another week or so, if that. Wasn't his fault I was over-paying. He just accepted the cheque with thanks and did what I asked of him. Global warming was chilling the relationship.

So, last year, I asked Nigel to take a paycut. Gave him a day to think about it. He accepted with good humour. The payrate became more equitable, but frankly he still made about as much for an hour of actual work, as I make as a computer programmer.

This past spring, I told Nigel it was time to get on with his life. I wouldn't be employing him as my external facilities manager any more. Despite my grievances over pay for no play, the fact is that I knew that whenever I HAD needed him to do the work, he'd done it quickly, efficiently and without complaint. He had also, on occasion, re-arranged his life to accomplish that. It was approaching time that he'd leave his family and move on. I just pushed a little earlier.

I was going to save even MORE money by going to the old Per-snowfall scheme that had worked prior to Nigel getting old enough to take on the work and responsibility of shoveling snow for me. I arranged for Patrick's son, A.J. to become the guy. And I'd pay for it on an as-needed basis.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, were sown the seeds for this precipitous snowfall of the 2007-08 winter. That's right, I caused it. The largest amount since 1939. All my fault.

Yesterday, I opened negotiations to pay for it in advance for next year.

You're welcome.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

SPORTS: I Answer Griffin

Richard Griffin's column in the Toronto Star today is about Toronto Blue Jays' Manager John Gibbons. Nice man. Slightly below-average manager. Probably history in about eight months. At least he'll take his former minor-league roomie, J.P. Ricciardi, out the door with him. However, the question that Griffin posed at the end of the article wasn't about Gibbons, it was about Clarence Gaston.

Why, Griffin wonders, has no team hired two-time World Series winning manager Gaston, beyond the Blue Jays themselves, who gave him a second tour into disaster?

The answer? He's not very good. Never has been. Although he was EXACTLY the right manager for the 92-93 Jays that won it all. When he had to 'manage' in 1994, he couldn't. Simple as that. I should point out that Gaston WAS offered other jobs back in the 90's, but he realized he wouldn't be stepping into conducive situations and turned down jobs. I heard Milwaukee and Anaheim. He wanted the ChiSox job, knowing that good things were happening there talent-wise, but Kenny Williams tossed his former batting coach over for Ozzie Guillen. It worked for at least one championship year.

I simply don't get what so many fans don't get. Just as different players have different talents, thus we have pitchers, infielders and catchers, good, great and not-so-great players, smart and dumb players, we have managers who's skill sets make them ideal in one spot and dunderheads in others.

Joe Torre is the classic example. Today, he's revered in the baseball world for his low-key approach to the zoo known as the New York Yankees. Under his gentle thumb, the Yankees re-emerged as world-beaters. His genius wasn't quite on display in his earlier managerial stints in Atlanta, St. Louis and with the Mets. He only ever won one division title in the three stops before the Yanks. But the Yankees needed somebody with an even keel, a low sense of self-importance and enough of a strategist to change pitchers at the right time. Result: Success in a major way. He only started losing in post-season again, when his pitching dried up.

Gaston probably could have done exactly the same job, quality-wise. He could be sitting with rings on his OTHER hand, if he'd been hired instead of Torre. But we'll never know.

In reality, the key component of Gaston's coaching success was his LACK of an ego in the two pennant years. Casey Stengel once opined that a manager could never win a game, but he could lose up to ten a year by interfering too much. He also said the key to managing was keeping the ten guys that hated his guts away from the ten that weren't sure. He viewed managing as people-bossing, rather than strategizing.

Gaston never got the Manager of the Year award during the Blue Jays' title runs. I didn't think he deserved the award in either year. However, in at least one of the years (his first) leading up to the title autumns, I thought it was beyond question he was the best manager in baseball. The voters disagreed and termed Gaston just a gatekeeper and scorecard-filler. Later on, they were proven right.

Gaston's ego exploded after remaining anonymous, despite the two titles. He became angry. He engaged in a nasty little verbal fight with Bob McCown, the eminence grise of the Toronto radio station, The Fan 590. His managing style, great for a team of veterans who knew what to do and when to do it, turned out to be less successful for a team needing guidance and decision-making.

Should that have been surprising? Only to fans who don't get managers have different talents.

The supposed big thinkers of managedom have rarely been successful. Gene Mauch and Tony LaRussa have two titles between them, LaRussa getting both. He won his during years when the A's and the Cards were stacked. In other words, he has about the success rate that Gaston enjoyed. Mauch NEVER had the talent it took to win, all he could do was keep it close and/or interesting with his stunts. He could never WIN games, according to Stengel, although he often put weaker teams into position to win with his coaching.

Smart, creative managers can pull little bits and pieces out of players that the players in question never knew they had. In hockey, these guys are called three-year hires, because their act only works for about that length of time. After that, they players learn all the psychological ploys, all the wisdom that can be imparted, and start tuning out. Baseball is rift with them, but they are more like one or two year wonders. Billy Martin was the instant fix in year one for many teams, and a disaster after that. It's the day after day, 162 games a year schedule that compresses brilliance and psychological destruction.

Managers CAN destroy talented teams. Martin comes to mind, as does Joe Morgan. Not the Hall of Famer and broadcaster Joe Morgan, but Boston Joe Morgan, who prolonged the Curse long enough for Schilling and Francona to finally put it to rest.

Clarence Gaston was a better than average player, a pretty good batting coach, a good and bad manager, and an imposing figure in retirement. Where he will stay.

Hope that answers the question, Richard.

Friday, March 07, 2008

TV: Gossiping About Gossip Girl

I agreed Bionic Woman was a disaster. I found charm in Women's Murder Club. And that brings me to the supposed hit of the three season series I managed to watch full (well, all of the aborted) runs of, last month.

Gossip Girl is equal parts Beverly Hills 90210 and The O.C. There's precious little original in this new melange, save for an abundant use of current technology. Seems everybody in this rich niche of life in New York City is a technogeek. Everybody has the latest in phones, PDAs and any other electronic gadget that might be germane to the plot of the moment.

It also has Kelly Rutherford, who I could watch read a phone book. Well, almost. She's close to unwatchable in this show, and that's saying a lot. Blake Lively and Penn Badgeley are the key focus characters, playing riffs on Brandon and Kelly from 90210 and Ryan and Marissa from O.C. When I say riffs, I mean Badgley's Dan is poorer than Brandon and Ryan. Lively's Serena has a different name than either Kelly or Marissa. Let me check if there are any other differences. Ahhhhhh, no.

This show is popular because it's the current scripted show invading the school life of the rich. Any competition and it would be soooo like last year's fashions by (fill in the blank).

I do think there are a couple of actors with promise down the road. Taylor Morrisen plays Dan's kid sister Jenny with a splash of deep-rooted conniving evil, buried beneath a rosy-cheeked naive little girl. They WOULDN'T turn her into a bitchy villainess to tangle with her do-gooder brother, but THAT would make the show interesting. She'll inevitably end up with Serena's kid brother Eric, played by Connor Paolo. I bet the show becomes known as Paolo's breakout role, rather than the Badgley star vehicle.

Before I go, let me point out no REAL man would throw over Jessica Szohr, who plays Vanessa, for Serena. Not if it ain't a science fiction show.

TV: Friday Night Lights Gets Fighting Chance

One of the best items at TV Squad today was the announcement that NBC is bringing Friday Night Lights back this fall. It'll be co-op production with DirectTV. Plain good news. The odds are that it will be an abbreviated season to test the waters of the new alliance, but we WILL get to see the production company's idea of how some of the stories resolved themselves.

Now, if NBC could only see its way to showing a resolution to the Las Vegas cliff-hanger.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

SPORTS: Ford Rant Redux

Okay, it's been a little more than a day since I ranted about trading T.J. Ford of the Toronto Raptors as soon as trading season opens this summer. One game later, Ford had actually passed the ball a couple of times (as well as throwing it away an equal number of times), but continued his "I can shoot anytime the ball is in my hands. Look, the ball is in my hands, NOW" approach to the game. Has my desire to see him housed somewhere south of the 40th Parallel abated?


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

SPORTS: Trade T.J. Ford

It's too late for the Toronto Raptors to trade T.J. Ford ... THIS season. But, after last night's display of New York Knick-style selfishness, I'd make it the first priority of the off-season.

To Portland for Jarret Jack and Travis Outlaw, perhaps? I'd even take on the contract of Stephon Marbury, if the Knicks would throw in David Lee and Reynaldo Balkman. Pair Ford up with Jason Kapono and see if Utah would be interested in trading Andrei Kirilenko in a three-way with somebody else, the third-team getting Ford. Afterall, Utah has Deron Williams.

Whatever, I've always found Ford's ability to pass comes from as much surprise on the part of opponents as any real passing ability. He's a ball-hog. A play-maker, according to Bosh, but ultimately a shot-taker that would have Kobe Bryant embarrassed. He dribbles and dribbles and then finds a shot to take. ONLY when surrounded by three or more defenders will he dish off.

As a proponent of team basketball, his play is untenable. To compare with Jose Calderon is to show the yin and yang of point guards. One believes in team, one doesn't. And however athletically talented he might be, he's eminently replaceable on this team. He can't play on a championship team. Simple as that. If Toronto dreams of a championship in two to three year's time, he has to be traded.

The Raptors need Bargnani to mature. They'll need two wings, one of whom can play defence. They need a reliable rebounding big man who plays defence and doesn't need a lot of offensive plays run for him. They need a backup guard for Calderon. They need to be out from under Ford's contract about the same time the Nestorovic contract ends. THEN, the team will have the money to see about filling in the last piece of the championship puzzle.

I'd prefer the Kirilenko option above all others. Kirilenko would provide the defence and enough offence to make a front-line of Bargnani, Chris Bosh and Kirilenko awfully hard to defend. Throw in Calderon and Anthony Parker and that team can start in an NBA final. You draft a mini-Ford like Ty Lawson and there's your backup point, with Roko Ukic being the third guard. Carlos Delfino, Jamario Moon and Kris Humphries (or his better replacement), make-up a decent rotation. And that's without using any exception money OR Nestorovic's expiring contract.

The interesting one would be the Knick move. Marbury would start next season as the backup, but his big contract would be great trade material. And even if the team hung on to the contract to get cap space themselves in the season AFTER next, when combined with Nestorovic's contract, it would actually give the Raptors 20 million reasons to lure a superstar north to combine with Bosh. In the meantime, Marbury could give them the same selfish backup play that Ford does. But replace Humphries with David Lee and split Jamario Moon's minutes with Balkman when the other team has a wing that needs stopping, and you upgrade the Raptors immediately.

Portland pursued Calderon at this trade deadline with some vigor. I don't know if they'd be as enthusiastic about Ford, but no hurt in trying. Jack can fill Ford's backup minutes. And if the Raptors could score the athletic Outlaw, then one wing spot would be taken care of. That opens up trading Kapono and/or Moon. Portland might also be willing to offer up Martell Webster instead of Outlaw, and that wouldn't be a bad thing for Toronto.

In any case, the Raptors would benefit immensely from making T.J. Ford an ex-Raptor this summer.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

NEWSPAPERS: Tissue-Thin Reading

I had cause yesterday to check out some old saved newspapers, looking for articles I wrote about the inaugural World Youth Softball Championships back in the early 1980s. The papers, while yellowing, were well-preserved. Maybe it was the paper, yellowing and all.

Leafing through the pages, I was struck by the full broadsheet size and thickness of each page. The pages almost felt like cardboard, compared to what I hold in my hands these days. The ink was black as starless night and didn't come off on my hands. But, that's a function of time, since ink back then, when fresh, was MORE likely to escape onto your fingers then today's duller, vegetable-based inks. On the other hand, I LIKED being an ink-stained wretch at the time.

The broadsheet has significantly shrunk these days. Holding out a broadsheet paper back in those days was like hugging a pickle barrel. You HAD to fold it so that you could only see one page at a time. And it wasn't unusual to see that one page folded vertically in half again, to handle better and to read down the length of the tall page.

This handling feature gave birth to the tabs which were roughly two-thirds of a broadsheet wide and about as tall as the broadsheet was wide. In Toronto, the Sun was always a tab, while the Star and the Globe and Mail were broadsheets (at least during my lifetime). When other papers joined the fray, they all came in as broadsheets, Toronto is the best-served newspaper town in North America, save for New York City.

Locally, the Guardian and the Brampton Daily Times were both broadsheets, until the Daily Times folded. About the same time, the Guardian became a tab. I'd worked for all four papers just mentioned, although only as a columnist for the Times.

I much preferred the broadsheet paper, and it's one of the reasons I've been a regular subscriber and reader of the Star all these years. I read the Sun, look over the Globe and Mail and occasionally the National Post, but I'm a Star guy. And that's the only paper that every FIRED me, so you know the loyalty runs deep.

Nobody in the paper business has any optimism about the long-term viability of the newspaper. The internet has bit big into the advertising business that fuels the newspaper model. In fact, advertising usually PAYS for the newspaper you read. The price you paid at the stand or into the hands of a carrier, is the PROFIT for the newspaper. I once wrote an essay in high school calling the newspaper the best bargain for 25 cents you can find (yes, I AM that OLD). Even at the current price, the statement still stands.

But I wish I wasn't making so many excuses for the newspapers. Let's start with the ink. Yes, it doesn't come off, but it's still too dim and it doesn't have that SMELL. I miss that smell. Secondly, the newspaper broadsheet is barely bigger than the tab of twenty years ago. There's less there, now. And so has the amount of words gone with it. I look for a newspaper to be MORE than a web-site paragraph. It doesn't have to go to Time magazine lengths, but there should be more analysis, more reporting.

And finally, we get to the paper. On a sunny day, I used to be able to open up a newspaper and read it, while sitting in my comfy green chair facing the front window. Now, not so much. I have to fold it back onto the back of the rest of the section. That's because the paper is so thin, ANY light source is enough to pass right on through and destroy the reading experience. And the paper's ability to withstand the rough handling of printing presses is a thing of the past. Creases and double-backs happen all the time. I am constantly pulling the page apart like an accordion, to see the words, rather than guessing at them. And waaaaaay too often, the paper didn't get through the press perfectly centred, resulting in chopped off text on one side or the other.

Still, my day always starts the same. I go to the computer, click a half-dozen times in Firefox to load the 70 or so sites I visit regularly. Then, it's downstairs to get the newspaper out of the door (You CAN train the carrier to put it inside the door, if you harp enough and cancel the subscription when they do it twice in a row). I glance at the front page, without being interested enough to check inside it if nothing catches my eye. I put the front section onto the discarded newspaper stack in the kitchen and then take what sections I regularly read upstairs to the reading room. On weekdays, the chosen sections are almost always the full rest of the paper. About half the sections make the journey on Saturdays and the whole paper, front section and all, gets read on Sundays.

I can't envision a different way to starting the day. I hope I never have to.