Sunday, April 27, 2008

SPORTS: A Heretic Asks Questions

Chris Bosh is a fine young man. A solid human being in the guise of an all-star basketball player. An icon here in Toronto, who undeniably gives his all every time he steps onto the court. He leads by example AND by word and deed. He's the captain of the Toronto Raptors and recognized as a good one.

But does the idol have clay feet?

Yesterday's Raptor loss to the Orlando Magic was the latest in a long line of great offensive efforts by Bosh. Lots of points and lots of rebounds. He put his body on the line. Kudos to him. Yet something niggles me about another part of his game. Defence.

All game long, the announcers opined about the foolishness of Rashard Lewis shooting long-range bombs when he had inordinate success driving to the hoop. Lewis' defender most of the time was Bosh. In fact, Bosh put up remarkably token defence to Lewis slashing paintward. Maybe it was the expectation he'd get help from the dude guarding Dwight Howard. But in reality, he didn't do much to stop Lewis from laying it up.

No question Bosh is a decent off-the-ball defender and a good rebounder. He's a 20/10 guy. But watch him play defence and ask yourself if he's a good man-to-man defender on HIS guy.

I fear our hero does, in fact, have feet of clay.

SOFTWARE: PopTray Problems

I use four email programs. My main account is monitored with Eudora, the now-deceased email program from Qualcomm. It's charm is that it separates attachments from email and when we had a real surge in virii a few years back, it was the one email program that didn't lose all of its email to an over-enthusiastic anti-virus program like Norton Anti-Virus. NAV's solution to most things was just to nuke the WHOLE inbox. That sort of made Outlook and even Thunderbird risky.

A few years back Mozilla's Thunderbird developed the same ability to separate attachments. That was worth trying, so I set up my other two accounts on it. Subsequently, I have added six other accounts, for a total of eight, to the burden for Thunderbird. No complaints with the current version at all. I could very well use it for the main account too. But I am incredibly lazy. Why move things over when I've got Eudora in that sweet spot of doing everything I want it too?

Those of you who love Eudora, should know that a successor called Odysseus in the works. It's a for-pay program available very shortly at the infinity datasystems site. There's also an attempt to graft the Eudora theme onto Thunderbird called Penelope. It's not that far along, but you can watch for it.

The third email option I use isn't in fact, an email program. It's a site, This is the web-mail arm of Google and it still requires an invitation to get in. Those invites used to be bribery gold. You had a few to hand out, and lots of friends wanting a browser email program, accessible anywhere there's a computer, with 1G of storage space. That's since doubled (at least) and been matched by other services like Hotmail and Yahoo, but back then, it was mouth-salivating desirable. It's a goto email address for me, used to get around certain problems. Unfortunately, gmail REALLY hates zipped file attachments and that's more impediment than I'd like.

Finally, there's the little maitre-d that I use for all of my downloadable email. PopTray is a free, open source program that can do MOST of the job of an email program, but in fact sits in my system tray downloading headers all day long.

Now, downloading headers is a LOT safer than downloading content. Especially if you get spam. REALLY especially if you get LOTS of spam. It's been a life saver at places that are getting bombed. With PopTray, you can download all the headers. Say you have 100 emails, only one of which is an email from somebody you are interested in.

Highlight them all (ctrl-A). Control-Click on the one you don't want to make go away. Hit the delete button. Poof. 99 emails go away. You then start your REAL email program and download the one you want. Total time, maybe a couple of minutes. And in the meantime, you haven't got your email program running full-time, taking lots of memory and resources. And no downloading spam with gigantic headers or pictures. That takes time and bandwidth and poses potential problems.

In fact, PopTray CAN be more than just a header browser. If you see one of the messages and can't decide spam or no, you can just preview the message's raw text. That will help with the decision. And if the email is a simple one that doesn't need reply, just reading, you can preview and discard as if it was spam. No loading the email program AT ALL.

There is MORE! You can write automatic rules for deleting spam that saves the highlight and delete process. The rules are easy to create, just a right click and two more menu choices. And the rules system has some power.

And there's the rub. Too much power. I got a little rule crazy and started writing more and more aggressive rules. One I wrote didn't test out so good. Somehow, it started deleting any email I got that included RE: plus a fairly common other circumstance (people in the CC'd field). It took me forever to figure this out. The missing emails from the past month or two are long gone.

So, I went and deleted all the rules. My 40 spams per email box zoomed back up to 100. Still it doesn't take long to do the highlight, ctrl-click on the keepers and delete routine. I think I'm going to go without rules for awhile to see if I can stand seeing all those headers.

You can download PopTray at the program's website.

MOVIES: I Had a Dream...

Getting down to crunch time with some programming projects, so naturally I ended up with an extremely vivid dream last night, one that I held onto through several visits to the little boys room.

It seems a wacky old oil tycoon with a will favouring male heir(s) passes away with nary a male relative that anybody knows about. Turns out there's an illegitimate grandson who's about to learn too much about heavy and sweet crude. I have no idea where the idea came from. Other than occasional read-throughs on the business page of the Toronto Star, I've been purely sports, programming and bodily functions these days. Haven't even touched the novel for a week.

But I hope the mental movie was a comedy last night. Otherwise, I'm worried about the title I dreamt up.

Hitmen Are Cheaper Than Lawyers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

SPORTS: The Emery Solution

Bryan Murray has marked down the price on Ray Emery to the point where any other GM would be nuts to trade assets when he can be picked up off the scrap heap for money alone come summer. Forget the Emery and Spezza to Vancouver for Luongo and fodder. Not going to happen. Not unless Mike Gillis has something on Emery that would ensure his good behaviour. And I don't think such a thing exists.

But I've got one idea that makes sense for all involved. Emery and a second-round draft pick to Nashville for Chris Mason. Nashville then immediately buys Emery out.

So, why would Ottawa do the deal? Hmmmm, no Emery is a good start to ANY trade situation. Mason (signed for two years) would then engage in a competition with rookie Brian Elliott and holdover Martin Gerber. Worse comes to worse, the Senators end up with Mason and Gerber and then Elliott joins Mason the following season, getting ready to take over in 20010-11. Would even save a few bucks. And with re-signings needed aplenty, every free buck helps.

Now, why would Nashville want to do the deal. Essentially, they would be buying the second-round pick. They might even get Ottawa's first-rounder, if David Poile hangs in there in negotiations with Murray. The Predators have to bring up their minor-league goalie, Pekka Rinne, next year (out of options), so they have a built-in cheaper backup for Dan Ellis (the kid from my neck of the woods). They would rather move Mason's salary and get something, rather than execute their OWN buyout with no return. And, here's the kicker, they have ample cap space. They can take the four-year cap hit, along with the two-thirds cash payout to rid themselves of Emery.

It's not like it would set a precedent. New Jersey fobbed off a retired defenceman and a first-rounder to Anaheim a couple of years back to get badly-needed cap space. This year, Nashville has the cap space to absorb the hit and would get the same kind of return for their financial largesse.

The cost of buying Emery out is about four million bucks and the cap hit is about a million a year over the next four years. Off-setting that would be the cost of escaping Mason. Let's say that off-sets about two-thirds of the money and cap-space. Is that remaining cost worth a two? A one?

How do YOU spell relief? Murray might spell it N-A-S-H-V-I-L-L-E.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SPORTS: Burke's Bombast Will Be Missed

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been left at the Batchelor Party. They never got to the altar with Brian Burke, who has chosen to remain with the Anaheim Ducks, rather than take a a lot of dollars and grief and come to (his words) "The Vatican" of the hockey world.

The fans and the media in Toronto will feel forever jilted that the caustic Burke has chosen not to come to their perceived epicentre of the hockey universe. Burke would have been entertaining during a time period when the hockey club won't be. Burke's a smart man. The extension he is currently negotiating with the owners in La-La Land will undoubtedly have a larger yearly stipend than it might otherwise have had, had not Toronto papers started bandying about a potential $5 Million dollar annual stipend. My guess is that Burke moves a lot closer to that figure than the $2-3 Million figure he might have been getting before.

And money is the least of it. Burke's not stupid. The Toronto GM position is a bad one for about two years. The contracts of the Muskoka Five and a few other serfs don't allow for much leeway. There isn't going to be any Philly Flyer turnaround with this team. The talent pipeline is dribbling out a player or two, but nothing like the Flyers' Junior Team Canada graduation camp. There are NO easy solutions for the John Ferguson Junior-created conundrums. And seeing how Glen Sather's star fell after taking his successful Edmonton act to Broadway, Burke is aware of how fast public reputation can fall. Losing will do that for you.

On the other hand, when did Burke suddenly become Sammy Pollock? A healthy portion of his talent was obtained by Bryan Murray (speaking of falling stars). He had the salary cap room and the draft choices to steal Chris Pronger, but Murray provided a good part of that and Pronger's wife did the rest. He DID ditch Sergei Fedorov and his salary, but the one-time Red Wing star had more in the tank than Burke believed. Might Fedorov have provided scoring this year's Anaheim team needed?

Certainly Andy McDonald would have, but he was sacrificed due to Burke's mishandling of long-term finances and the return of Scott Niedermayer, to an already-stacked blue-line.

No, Burke has worts. He has the same number of Cups as Jimmy Rutherford (well-regarded) and Jay Feaster (not). If winning a Cup bestows infallability, it's news to me. I don't get impressed until you do it a couple of times. To me, the summit of hockey poobahs is a tie between Ken Holland of Detroit and Leo Lamoriello of the Devils. Leo's not moving from the Swampland, and he's the kind of guy that wins, but doesn't thrill. I think Toronto fans would prefer a little entertainment with their winning.

Holland, on the other hand, is exactly the guy Burke was SUPPOSED to be. He's successful long-term and his winning isn't built on a few years of top draft choices finally coming of age. He, and his management team, have thrived and then continued to thrive, taking talent passed over by needier and poorer teams.

THAT is the route to respectability and then success.

Burke should NEVER have been choice one. Holland should have been. But the assumption was that Holland was not available. And with Burke 'just around the corner,' that assumption was not put to the test. Can it be?

Steve Yzerman is the newest Sather/Bob Gainey in the making. He knows his time is coming. He and Jim Nill, with able guidance from consigliere Jimmy Devellano, would make a good to great management team, leaving Holland to return to his roots back here in Canada. If this was next year and Yzerman getting antsy to start making decisions rather than having input in them, I'd say the movement would be a given. It JUST might be a year early.

I know Holland feels beholden to the Detroit owner, Mike Illitch. He's been a good owner, not watching pennies and letting his management team make decisions rather than micro-managing. Illitch, wouldn't like to see Holland go, but I'm sure a Gary Bettman "In the Best Interests of the sport" phone call would resolve the permissions issue. Holland HAS to feel Yzerman's need to shine coming from behind. And really, Nill should have been a GM long ago. HE would be great for Toronto, except for the idiotic stance by Peddie that the new GM HAS to have a successful GM career on his resume already.

All in all, Holland is the guy to lead Toronto out of the cold winter night. Even if the Leafs have to wait a year under caretaker GM Cliff Fletcher, it would be worth waiting to bring in a GM that WOULD make a difference. Not just in the press.

SOFTWARE: Send Me a Picture

Microsoft Windows has a screen capture utility. I THINK it involves the printscreen key (which is often spelled PrntScrn (or some combination of Prnt, Pnt, Prn and a corruption of Screen). It's also one-half of a shared key with the SysReq (aka SysRq, SystemRequired) key. It's all so confusing. And not very good. When it works, it doesn't give you much in the way of options with what to do with it.

Generally speaking, it's a good thing to seek out a free alternative to handle all of your screen capturing needs.

My personal choice is Gadwin Screen Capture, now in version 4.0. You can download the program here.

Part of what makes me like Gadwin is that I can choose easily to send my instant screen shots to the clipboard, the printer or to a file, or any combination of the three. It also lets me choose to do the whole screen or just a selected rectangle, which is what I prefer all of the time. There are also settings that let you choose to be fussed with by the program, or get no fussing whatsoever. That's the one I like, no splash window, no alerting when the picture snapshot is complete and no reviewing the image after the fact. Just copy and then paste into whatever application I want.

Examples of what I use it for includes producing documentation of programs. I run the program here, take a snapshot and then paste it into Pagemaker, where I'm making the documentation. Flip back to the program, go to the next window or process. Repeat until finished. Since pictures tell a thousand words, it's very effective. Another use I get is to paste how-to pictures into emails. Again, it cuts down on potential confusion a WHOLE lot.

Gadwin isn't perfect. I honestly occasionally wish it had a quick and easy way of adding lines, circles, pointers AND text. If I JUST need the latter one, I can paste the clipboard-saved picture into Irfanview and add from there. But some people JUST NEED a line and an arrow to see what's obviously staring back at them from the screen.

Interestingly enough, the web-site, Confessions of a Freeware Junkie, compared screen capture utilities in a recent post. It's highest rated program was Screenshot Captor (available here). One of the reasons it rated highly, was the ability to edit after-the-fact. It's a little over-kill feature-wise and the original review of the product indicated it couldn't send pictures directly to the printer, but that misapprehension has been corrected. Judge the complexity issue by the fact that an experienced computer user had trouble finding the setting. On the other hand, I was intrigued enough that I am giving it a trial myself.

Also, look through the full review by the Freeware Junkie of ALL of the products. There might be something in there that attracts you to one of the other programs.

In the meantime, if you see a screenshot of my computer in an email, it will probably continue to be from Gadwin. Easy to use. Easy to set up. Always right there for when I need it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

SOFTWARE: Over My Dead Vista!

It's been a few days now, but I think I'm over my brief flirtation with Vista. I can't prove it, but my sore knee is undoubtedly from kicking myself at night, while asleep, for allowing that gawdawful misconception of an operating system to enter my home.

It should have been an hour-long job. Two hours tops. Set up two accounts, one for a mother, the other for the daughter, on a laptop. Install some professional tools for the mom (Office, Photoshop, etc.) and freeware equivalents for the daughter (Open Office, Gimp, some school study aids, etc). The mother needs total security that the daughter can't get into her data, and the mom needs snoopability for the kid. Like I said, a simple one-hour job with either Windows 2000 or Win XP. Heck, I bet I could do it in less time on the Mac.

Vista? Ten hours spread over three days. Lots of enjoyable sports ruined while I fussed over Vista fussing over me.

What's worse, I was told I couldn't do anything about the eye-candy, despite it slowing down the computer and making it hard to read. I sort of guessed that, when the laptop arrived complete with a flower shell on the outside and along the inside palm rest. Still, I struggled through.

I DID get the stuff set up as I needed to, rather than as I wanted to. I think the ladies in question will be able to make ample use out of what I set up. But they'll eventually go batty from all of the "Are you SURE you trust this application" type message. The daughter won't like having Mom monitor all installs, unless she waits until the computer is on but Mom's not around. Then she can log in and install stuff to her heart's delight. AND if she find a .DOC file (say, by saving an Open Office document to the Microsoft format), double-clicking on it will start up Microsoft Word.

Security? Better on Vista? Surely, sir, you are having me on!

I've done my best, but it crystallized my long-held belief that Vista is nothing but a prettier Windows ME, with too much in it for Microsoft and their commercial buddies, and too little for ANY SANE USER (Darshan and Don excepted). So from now on, the friendly approach to friends with computer needs is changed.


No where are those headache pills?

Monday, April 21, 2008

SPORTS: Tommy Who?

The Montreal Canadiens got tired of playing possum and testing out the efficacy of heart medicine and dispatched the Boston Bruins tonight. Carey Price and Alexei Kovalev, who have starred AND played poorly during the preceding games in the opening series of the Stanley Cup playdowns, both were on their best behaviour tonight.

And oddly, the player who I thought has been the best Hab so far, Tom Kostopoulos, was just about invisible. And I guess, if you are going to win big, you won't notice Tom.

The Canadiens are once again playing firewagon hockey, the term for those great Montreal clubs of the past that dominated the Stanley Cup for much of the second half of the 20th century. Those teams won with style, speed and a special panache, backed with Hall of Fame goaltending. This century's version of the team had often been plodding defence-oriented squads that featured pluggers and hopes and found little success.

Yet, those pluggers are now a key ingredient in hockey success. In fact, such a guy, Glen Metropolit, had been one of Boston's best throughout. But the Plugger Hall of Fame surely must have a spot for Kostopoulos after the series he's had. Through the first six games, he had two goals and an assist and was a team-leading plus three. Kovalev, by example, was a MINUS three over the same stretch.

Maybe its the way Rasho Nesterovic of the Toronto Raptors has opened up my eyes to watching the unheralded guys contribute by just doing their job. But I will tell you, it was hard to miss Kostopoulos throughout the series until tonight's wrap-up. And even then, his line went unscored-on. It was easy to miss because Boston didn't score against ANY line.

If the Habs DO go on to spring (or will it be summer?) success, I guarantee you that one of the prime reasons will be the off-season pickup that nobody noticed. Tom Kostopoulos, the guy with the big STOP in his name.

MISC: The BEST Gift You Can Receive

... is a heart-felt Thank You!

Last spring, I had occasion to visit the O'Neill Mansion for the baseball roto draft. Wasn't feeling too well. Earlier that day, Patrick's wife Dawna and daughter Angela were out shopping, and Angela made a particular point to get the orange soda I prefer drinking when drafting. Totally unprompted. I treasured that. The bubbly tween had thought of me and that made me feel a WHOLE lot better. I decided on the spot that she would have a very special Christmas present.

I have bought her mother spa visits on occasions over the years. Dawna appreciates them (and so do Patrick and her son AJ. She always seems happy and relaxed upon the return). I decided that this year, I would get Dawna AND Angela spa visits for their Christmas present. Happy to be done gift-shopping for two of the most important people in my life, I turned to plotting presents for others and forgot all about the spa stuff. Until December.

At that point, I sauntered down to the local spa and prepared to put down hard-won lucre to purchase the mother-and-daughter spa visit. The look on the women's face was straight out of the "I can't believe I sucked that WHOLE lemon DRY!" postcard from a cold day in hell. The mere thought of a 12-year old tromping through their precious space made her hem and haw. I got the message.

So, I started telephoning. About three passed muster in wanting tweens and moms together at one time. I didn't exactly get a good vibe off the cheapest one, but I visited the other two. One test of the cordiality of the place is for an old beaten down dude, dressed in my usual shabby attire to walk through the doors of some chi-chi place and see how he gets treated. Well, one was too high brow for the likes of me, the other was a welcoming place. I picked the latter. It was a fair bit of change, but Angela had had a good year in school, had generally behaved in a positive way most of the year (she's a teenager, not an angel). And she'd remembered me at a time I needed such a gesture.

The present exchange was great at Christmas. I went first and got my huge sack of books. I LOVE my Christmases. Patrick and AJ got theirs and then I had Dawna open her present second to last. She was as happy as I've seen her in awhile, and admitted she'd had a run-in or two with the old spa place. A change was definitely not disappointing.

I had trumpeted the fact that I had something special for Angela for about six months. She got a video and a book as part one of her gift (I give both she and AJ books yearly, turnabout fair play). Then, she opened the other part of her gift. It was a gift certificate for her first spa visit. I understand this is considered entering womanhood by some rich folk.

Angela's expression was priceless. She smiled. She said thanks. But there was that little stiffness kids have when they get something they aren't quite sure of. Dawna was excited enough for the both of them. If forced to swear on a bible, I'm sure Angela would have said, "I HOPE I like it." It was just a LITTLE bit comical.

Friday, the two ladies finally took advantage of the certificate. Dawna because she was stressed out after a month-long cold and a heavy-duty work week, Angela, because her mother was going. What would the result be?

Just after 10 pm Friday, I got the phone call. "Hi, uncle Gary. It's Angela. I just wanted to thank you for the gift certificate. It was REAL fun!" I'm sure my smile lit up the sky almost as brightly as the Northern Lights. Dawna's opinions after I finished talking with Angela were even more positive. She raved about the youthful staff's care and consideration of Angela and the total relaxing tone to the whole experience.

If the joy of giving is always like this, sign me up for a life-time spa membership.

SPORTS: Parting Is Such Sour Sorrow

If J.P. Ricciardi was a paragon of truthfulness, it wouldn't be hard to believe his story of a mutually agreed-upon parting of the ways between the Toronto Blue Jays and Frank Thomas. But he's an admitted liar to the press (and the public). So forgive my feeling he isn't fessin' up about the end of the mistake that was the career of Frank Thomas, Toronto Blue Jay.

I'm on the record as to my dismay at Thomas' signing and his continued presence in the starting line-up until, well about the time of my last posting. After last season's sonorous start to the season, I thought it fairly obvious that the best the Blue Jays could do was to platoon Thomas and Matt Stairs as DH, with the lefty Stairs getting the lion's share of the at bats, until the weather and the notoriously slow-starting Thomas heated up. Then, let the best hitter swing away. I have no reason to believe that couldn't have worked this season.

In fact, I felt quite hopeful after Saturday's announcement, despite the presence of Rod Barajas as the DH. Stairs was apparently needed in LF where the gimpy (Surprise!!!!) Shannon Stewart was supposed to roam. It would be gauche of me to point out Reed Johnson's .342 average over in Chicago, but why pile Ricciardi error upon error. Absolutlely no other Ricciardi error (ahem, Burnett, ahem) will subsequently be dissected in this posting.

The reasonable Saturday announcement was followed by a petulant Thomas press conference. He put the motive behind the demotion squarely on the lap of penny-pinching Blue Jay owner Ted Rogers. Now, I have my problems with Rogers and the team mismanagement pair of Paul Godfrey and Ricciardi, but they are spending money and lots of it on such high-returning players as Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus, Burnett, Eric Hinske and the Big Hurt himself. Just to name a few. Oops, picking on the GM again.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, Thomas was out of line airing out the company laundry. His rationale was self-serving and no more on the mark than was his batting average. Which was less than I weigh. Lots less. He deserved to be squelched, and fast. Mind you, it would have worked a little better if Ricciardi had thought ahead and had a man ready to come to Toronto, rather than play the game short-handed. A nice civil mutual decision would have put Thomas on the bench to pinch-hit, and then split after the game.

Sunday morning he got squelched, and told to take his big butt back south of the border. The team played nice press-wise, but in no way is it believable that it was a mutual decision. Thomas could NOT show up in the dugout Sunday after fobbing off his demotion as just bank account balancing.

Seattle, Tampa Bay, Texas ... the list of potential Thomas employers isn't long, and it's close to imaginary at the numbers just listed. Seattle has disappointing Jose Vidro and Tampa Bay injured Cliff Floyd holding down the DH spots. But, as disappointing as they've been, both Vidro and Floyd's replacement Hinske (yeah, THAT guy), are still more productive than Thomas. And Texas has three guys outdoing Thomas.

Shea Hillenbrand had this role in an earlier soap opera (in San Fran, after being shipped out of Toronto due to anti-social behaviour combined with low output). Once an All-Star, Hillenbrand found his particular noxious combination did not lead to continued employment. Thomas, a many-time all-star, must be in danger of never playing again. Somebody will get hurt, giving him a chance. But realistically, barring that Wally Pipp moment, we've seen the last of Frank Thomas.

It's too bad. Up until Saturday, Frank Thomas had been nothing as advertised. He wasn't the offensive force Ricciardi hoped he would be. And he wasn't the clubhouse cancer and PR Nightmare Kenny Williams and the ChiTown folks made him out to be. Two days later, he vindicated Williams' low opinion of him.

Stairs and Stewart will now DH. Let the Adam Lind era begin.

Friday, April 18, 2008

SOFTWARE: Keeping Me ... ME!

I figure I use something in the order of 150 different passwords over the course of a year. More if you count all the passwords I know that other people use. (Not kidding, I know the passwords of everybody at each client I do business with). Keeping those straight can be a wee bit of a problem.

The system I USED to use was to take a root password, say Raptors. At each site I would prepend initials. If I was doing work for IBM, my password there might be ibmraptor. This worked decently well until I had to enter an NCAA basketball pool at The Sporting News and TSN-The Sports Network. Oops, same password. That's when I started moving the appendix around. Some times I put it at the back, sometimes in the middle. The result was no more than three guesses at the password at various places. That broke down when I couldn't remember whether Fox News/Microsoft was FNM or MFN. The permutations eventually escaped my control to remember them all. Also, don't forget my memory issues from a couple of posts back.

Eventually, I came to rely on a program on my computer (plus one in my PDA) to record all passwords under ONE common password. I have to enter in TaraRaboomziyay to get INTO my database of passwords, wherein, I keep my collection. It might not be Tara's name, but you get the idea.

After some casting around, the program I use is an open-source (free and modifiable) effort called Password Safe. It can be found at the sourceforge site.

At the site, the author details the dire consequences of using the same password for many places. In fact, you should have a UNIQUE password for each site. I mentioned earlier that I know the passwords for users of the network AND my software at the various sites I am charged with at least partially maintaining. Betcha at least ONE of them, is using their email password from their home account at work. Betcha a LOT!

Now, here's how easy it is to steal somebody blind. Knowing their password and finding out some place they do business, say Amazon, I log into Amazon, I go to the login screen. Almost ALL sites have a 'Forgot your password?' link. I click that and tell them to send it to me at say 3am in the morning. It's all automatic. The person is not up at that time, but I AM! Using their email, I go to their internet service provider and log into the web-mail interface and check the new mail. The returned password to the Amazon account will be there, guarantee it.

Once I have THAT email, I go into the account. I change a few things, such as where to deliver. Then I order a big bundle of books, intending for them to be delivered to some random location I can check, but that ISN'T my house. I then log back into the webmail account and delete the confirmation emails Amazon sends. I await the delivery of the big bag of books, collecting them on the delivery date. Only after the person gets a BIG credit card bill does the investigation start. Meanwhile, I'm in the easy chair reading the collected works of some author I NEVER order, say that Willy Shakespeare dude.

Of course, this whole scenario has some fleas, due to more diligent checking on Amazon's part than I've just described. But the basic concept is extremely possible.

You MUST not let your password, especially your email password, loose. If you even SUSPECT some other party might know it, change it.

The art of making passwords is a mystery to most folk. Using actual words are really stupid, as are names of loved ones and maybe even not-so-loved ones. For years I recommended spelling words and names backward. After a few times, even an absurd password that is the backwards spelling of another word is easy to remember. Using random capitals and punctuation marks also help. SIDE CHUCKLE: For years, I used one lady's name backwards as my standard password. Mentioned it to her in passing and she noted that I had mis-spelled spelling her names backwards. So I also suggest spelling names sideways.

One of the reasons Password Safe is a good program is that it suggests passwords for you. Takes the pain right out of the creativity. You tell it how many letters, whether to use punctuation and whether to mix and match capitals. It does the rest, checking quickly to see if the password might be in a hash dictionary. Once it rules out easy, brute force guessing, it gives you a delightfully unguessable password. So unguessable, if you don't have access to Password Safe, you aren't getting in.

That's when YOU get to click the 'Forgot your password?' link.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

SPORTS: Garry Broke the Code

Analysts have to be neutral on sports broadcasts. Last night, Garry Galley was not neutral in the Pittsburgh-Ottawa Stanley Cup Conference quarter-final game.

Galley's point of failure came on the disputed goal that would have tied the game at 2-2 late in the second period. It was kicked in by Antoine Vermette. It was relatively clear when it happened that it had been kicked in. Yet Galley continued to blather on about the INTENT of the player when kicking the puck into the net. As the play-by-play announcer brought up replay after replay that showed Galley was wrong, totally wrong, he clung to the intent defence as if he had a vested interest in Ottawa succeeding.

Galley works out of Ottawa and has worked FOR the Senators.

You'd expect such blinkered analysis if Donald S. Cherry ended up at the mike at a Maple Leaf, Bruin or Canadian National Team game. But the CBC doesn't pay Galley to support Ottawa uber alles.

And the worst part, the play SHOULD have been a penalty against Pittsburgh defender Kris Letang. Had the down time been spent asking if the review process can allow the referee to assign a penalty to Letang while over-ruling the goal (no, as it turns out), the wasted verbiage coming from Galley would have had some use. It wasn't until the goal was waived off that the announcers even brought up the penalty that was escaped.

With as many as five games in any given night, the CBC and TSN need a roster of analysts. Like the teams they cover, the analysts must do well enough to earn a spot in the next round, where there are fewer opportunities. Like the Ottawa Senators, I think Galley lost out on his chance to move on.

At least, he should have lost out.

MISC: Does Knowing the Ending, Spoil the Experience?

The answer, of course, is that it depends.

I had occasion last night to catch Citizen Kane, starting about five minutes into the movie. Frankly I was sick and tired of the work I was doing. I have had a few conundrums to solve, and haven't. So, I gave into temptation and watched the Orson Welles classic. It might be the first time I've seen the movie in three decades. And it still works its magic.

The difference this time, is that I know the secret. The mystery revealed in the final word of the script, the final shot. It's the mark of a great mystery to extend it out to the final page (of the book or script). A truly great mystery makes it to the final sentence. A masterpiece waits until the final word. And I knew the word going in. So why was I enraptured.

I watched for the clues along the way. The mystery was in whether there were any mis-steps along the way. I believe The Da Vinci Code is marred by treading off the path of honest clues (at least the book version, the movie was just plain confusing). But Citizen Kane plays honest with its viewers. And it was a great trip down memory lane.

Now, there are other mysteries, LIKE The Da Vinci Code, that only whither on subsequent readings/watchings. And that book isn't the worst example of being only enjoyable on first reading or viewing. I'll give you another example.

I think it's an Eric Frank Russell or Theodore Sturgeon tale, but I couldn't find it on a quick search. But here's the short story in a nutshell. By the way, it can't ever be filmed, so you only ever have to fear tripping over it if you read 50-year old Science Fiction.

A couple of aliens in a spaceship land on earth, ahead of gigantic invasion force. They are experienced scouts, with experience landing on many planets to decide whether their fellow beings should invade. They've made mistakes, but generally they've steered the fleet to victory and avoided getting into unwinnable wars. Their big weapon is the ability to change their appearance to match that of the local inhabitants.

We read about adventures where they made the mistake of taking on the appearance of the same local being, and just barely got away with their skins. They've also made the mistake of getting the appearance right, but not the size. Like I said, these scouts are veterans.

Having spent a week looking at the local inhabitants, they feel comfortable that they have the appearance, habits and even the language down pat. They do their chameleon thing and exit the spacecraft, ready for their scouting mission. Five minutes later, they are surrounded and arrested.

A few days later, the fleet, having not heard from the scouts, writes them off as lost and Earth as too tough to invade. They move on elsewhere for another attempted conquest.

The last scene is almost written like movie directions. The 'camera' pulls back from the landing site and you read a sign sitting not far from where the aliens exited and started walking into the nearest town.

"Sunny Retreat Nudist Colony."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

SOFTWARE: Painless OOPS Avoidance!

Naturally, in my last recommended software post, I raved about Autoruns and its ability to get rid of Internet Explorer BHO's. I SHOULD have mentioned along the way, NOT to make any changes until you had a good restoration point or a backup of your system. Changes COULD result in the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH!

It did to me!

Luckily, I had the restoration POINT, PLUS a good backup. No panic, just a little creative use of Tanj-it, and use of that restoration point. You've been warned!

Okay, we all know backing up is akin to volunteering to clean up the garage. Somebody has to do it, as long as it's just not you. You are TOO busy. I feel for you, people. I'm waaaaaay too busy myself. Forgot my brother's birthday yesterday until, oh, about 3am THIS morning. Sorry about that Rick. The present's nice. Hope that buys me forgiveness.

At any rate, I automate a lot of my backups. I have a half-dozen different methods, involving copying off-site over the internet, on to DVDs and between the various machines operating on the network here at the Castle of Confusion. The main work machine, Nuklon copies key data from one drive to another within Nuklon, the copies are then copied to an external hard drive, followed by the data being parceled out between computers Kingston and Ollie. Kingston's basically JUST an emergency use computer and print server these days, while Ollie is the telecom computer. There are also backups onto two thumb drives and a livable cloning of the work environment on CindyMax the laptop computer.

Should you adopt my complete system? Nope.

What you CAN do, is run an automatic system that gives you OOPS backups of your key data. The kind of stuff that changes daily. To do that, go ahead and download Karen's Replicator from Karen Kenworthy's site. While you're at it, investigate some of the other utilities at her site.

Karen's a programmer and former magazine writer. She writes clearly and programs cutely, and that's a pretty good mix. I wish she'd switch to Delphi Pascal, rather than Visual Basic 6, but, being an end user rather than tinkerer with Replicator, I can live with that. The program is NOT the most intuitive, but there's a lot of choices that can be made, or you can just accept mostly defaults and copy data from one folder on your system to another folder. And that gives you OOPSability. (loosely defined as being able to greet disaster with "OOPS," rather than a long-line of curse words, because you have the data backed up). And it can all be done without you lifting a single finger ... after setting it up.

I run Replicator full-time. Its big white K on a red background is a comfort, sitting in the system tray.
About 5am, it wakes up and goes through the list of things I need it to do. It backs up the programming environment daily, the actual projects daily to different odd and even day folders. It also backs up the novel (every time I make a change, I give it a new name, allowing me to compare from one editing session to another). It backs up my Firefox bookmarks and passwords daily into different folders for each day. My wishlist for birthdays and Christmas get backed up once a week. Settings for various programs are backed up once every two weeks. Then there's all the data moving between Nuklon, Kingston and Ollie, plus the external drive. All of it gets done between 5am and about 8am. That's when the virus scanners and scumware detectors take over to do THEIR scanning work before I get up.

Initially, a big system (and mine has close to 1.5 terabytes at this moment) will take a lot longer than three hours to backup. But after the first backup, Karen's Replicator only backs up changes. And that leads to economical three-hour backups. So don't get worried.

Karen Kenworthy has updated the program over the years about a dozen times. I didn't like a change or two, but communicated with her on the one REAL PITA, and the response was a quick update. I apparently wasn't the only one who disliked the particular change in question.

What remains is a pretty decent program. It works best at night, when you aren't using the computer, but it CAN be made to work while you are working (never recommended). Leaving your computer on at night might not be something you want to do, so schedule it for lunch hours or evening meals. Just remember, if you DO leave the computer on for night-time work, don't forget to reboot the computer about once a week. Certainly no more than every two weeks. Windows has a flaw that accumulates like bad gases, if left on without rebooting.

All in all, I recommend Replicator. There are better programs out there that cost bucks. But amongst the freebies (for non-commercial use), Replicator is just about the ultimate set-and-forget program.

SOFTWARE: Autoruns From Microsoft

There are more than a few people who think I think Microsoft makes dreadful software and its products should be avoided like the plague. Right and wrong!

Truth be told, Microsoft makes a LOT of dreadful software. Vista should not be allowed on any computer you own, unless you have a graduate degree in geekdom. It simply does not work, unless installed and watched over by somebody who knows the system it's installed on AND the operating system. There are other programs Microsoft has foisted on the world that SHOULD be the subject of a class-action suit, Internet Explorer, Outlook, etc...

But Microsoft DOES produce useful software. Windows 2000 is still solid and Windows XP is mostly pretty good. Microsoft Office is more pro than con, although the redesign of the latest Office's interface takes a fair bit of getting used to. There are other bits and pieces that earn claim (and some, disclaim). And I use a LOT of Microsoft software daily. I jut believe in getting best of breed whereever possible and Microsoft doesn't fit the label as often as it should.

One of the good ideas the folks at MS had last year was to employ Mark Russinovich. Mark was the guy who found Sony's infamous root kit on its music CDs and started the world on the path of scorning Sony for the incompetent, privacy-invading firm that it's now known as. Mark has always been a hacker par excellence and has published MANY little programs that delve into the innards of Windows. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Mark knew more about the inner workings of Windows than anybody then currently in the employ of Microsoft.

Amongst the many gems Mark published was Autoruns. This Startup Control Panel (Mike Lin's marvelous little program) on steroids can do LOTS of things. One of the things it can do, that Startup Control Panel can't, is to show you a list of BHO's for your Internet Explorer. BHO, stands for Binary Helper Object, and these little programlets are supposed to make your Internet Explorer work better.

Like all good intentions, some hellish twits have discovered they can help THEMSELVES to lots of information on your computer by installing BHO's. Many of the virus and scumware detectors out there do NOT detect BHO's. Mostly, because you have to be RUNNING Internet Explorer at the time for them to do anything. And most people don't run IE while scanning their computer.

Autoruns will list BHO's on your computer. I was actually surprised to find that I had a BHO installed from a magazine service I haven't used for more than a year, Newstand. Checking the Internet Explorer tab of Autoruns showed me a list of four that I had, none of which I knew I had. There were hooks for two different Adobe helper objects, the Newstand BHO and one for Java. Getting rid of the Newstand one probably pared my startup time by a thousandth of a second. I probably saved the equivalent in on-line time. Maybe even a second. Of course, I only IE about twice a month. What I DID accomplish is lessen the chance that some OTHER BHO might get into a conflict with the Newstand BHO and bring my web-browsing experience to a complete halt.

Now, THAT is worth taking the time to run Autoruns. Warning, it's a bit technical and you might be advised to have your local geek/nice neighbour over when you run it. But the effort will be worth while.

You can get Autoruns at the Sysinternals subsite at Microsoft.

LIFE: Anomaly Analysis

There are a lot of old saws along the lines of "Don't sweat the small stuff." Equally, you will find "Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves." Comes down to exactly the opposite in meanings.

In my world, both as a bridge player and as a computer programmer, I say take care of the small stuff AND the big stuff, and leave the big middle stuff completely alone.

In bridge, at a tournament pairs event, you'll play 24 hands in a round, give or take a few. Most times, the scores on each hand will range from a big fat zero (of which I am sadly familiar with) to a big shiny 12 (rare for me, but it happens). After the round, it is usual for my partner and I to repair to the local fast food emporium (McDonald's mostly) with a copy of the hand records and our scorecards. Our rule is simple. If we scored three or less, or nine or more, we take a look at the hand. Otherwise, we ignore it.


Although the almost normal scores of 3.5 to 8.5 could be hiding a gigantic, unusual situation, truth be told, almost all the scores are just that, normal. They deviate from the norm of six, because people at other tables playing the same hands, did something goofy. To spend time on those hands is wasted time. And there just isn't enough time between sessions to eat, formulate evening plans AND waste time. So, if it isn't an anomalous score, we ignore it.

What we look to do is to find ways to do less of what got us a bad score and more of what got us good scores. Sometimes it's as simple as one of us (me) is being too aggressive. Most good partnerships are built on a shooter (aggressive player) and a rock (conservative player). There are the odd exceptions, like Eric Rodwell and Jeff Meckstroth, who are both hyper-aggressive, but then they are two of the greatest card-players of all time and get themselves out of bidding messes. At other times, I've been found guilty of being TOO conservative and a dearth of GOOD scores is directly attributable to my being too meek. That's what these anomaly analysis sessions are all about.

Anomaly analysis can spread to other parts of your life too. For me, that other part of my life is programming ... or rather the results of my programming. I have one client who does a major inventory once a year and monthly mini-inventories. Let me concentrate on the yearly inventory.

When it's done, I do a discrepancy report, which shows the counted stock figures versus what the computer program considered to be in stock at the time of the inventory. This particular company manufactures and sells LOTS of widgets, with an active inventory of some 4,000 part numbers. I'd like to think we have an exact count on MOST of the parts, but I've been wrong ... 15 years in a row.

This year's discrepancy report ran 19 pages (about 1,200 items in all). That's down from 29 pages two years ago and 22 last year. These improvements are directly due to the Floor Supervisor that has supervised the last two countings. But it bugs me a LOT to see the endless sheets of paper pouring out of the printer with these 'mistakes' on them.

Then we take a look at the results and suddenly the disaster tends to lose focus. With parts where it's common to move 10,000 at a time, being out by one or two merits a 'blahhh' response. Well within the degree of error. But not all of the discrepancies merit a blase response. Some of the counts do have a troubling difference. In that case, a recount is called for. MOST times, I'm proven right within a respectable difference.

Some times, not.

We ran an anomaly analysis on the differences each year. Because we kept looking at it, year after year, we discovered a pattern to which parts ended up being wrong ... in BOTH directions of difference. A critical flaw in my software was discovered last year. It's taken a LOOOONG time to find the flaw in my software and I predict another two pages will be cut out of next year's report.

Whether it's sales analysis or individual performance on the basketball court for the Toronto Raptors, you HAVE to maximize analysis time and get back out there doing what you are supposed to be doing. Glossing over the mundane middle isn't a bad strategy at all, if it allows you to maximize analysis time and glean intelligence from all the noise that surrounds such endeavours.

By ignoring the forest, sometimes you can actually find the tree.

Monday, April 14, 2008

TV: The Want List

I spent too many minutes tonight reading through my doodle notes book trying to remember the name of a singer and a particular song. It's NOT "I Wrote Him a Letter," nor "He Wrote Me a Letter." But it's something like that. It's sung by a young blonde-haired lady from Western Canada. I think she toured Ontario within the last year, and she has two-tone coloured hair, blonde on top. And I cannot remember her name for the life of me. Amanda something, maybe?

At any rate, while combing through the notes, I happened upon my Want List for TV shows. I've done pretty good over the last couple of years, and the list is greatly reduced. Sometimes, the shows are on there for a single episode.

For example, I wanted Otherworld's episode entitled Rock and Roll Suicide, where the heroes introduce Rock and Roll to a brand new world that's never heard of it. They sing Beatles, Rolling Stones and David Bowie tunes in the show, probably the reason it's never been released on video. I mean, did they REALLY get all the right permissions to have their actors sing The Beatles' I Wanna Hold Your Hand? At any rate, last summer, I got the whole series, including the show. And you know, for a 22-year old SF series, it sort of held up. But the gem was the Rock and Roll Suicide episode.

As I said, my list is greatly reduced. Sometimes, as in Randall & Hopkirk, Deceased, the shows aren't quite as good as I remembered. In fact, the first season of the original Randall & Hopkirk is laughably bad, 40 years later. Others, like Dempsey & Makepeace, stand up to time quite well.

Right now, the top item on my list of missing shows is the 2004 summer-time short-run series, The Days. This one starred Marguerite MacIntyre, who now plays the mom on Kyle XY. It ran for six episodes in all. A 1996 fall series that bombed, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Maria Bello and Scott Bakula supposed had 13 episodes made (nine made it to air). Mann and Machine ran for nine episodes back in 1992 and starred the always entertaining David Andrews and troubled beauty Yancy Butler. It would be third on my list of American shows.

The second and third seasons (1985-86) of Dempsey & Makepeace top the British portion of my want list. The show that led the way for Keen Eddie, D&M starred gorgeous English starlet Glynis Barber and Bronx ex-pat Michael Brandon. They even got married in real life, so I imagine most of the on-screen arguments had some basis in reality. I've come close to breaking down and grabbing the Jon Pertwee seasons of Doctor Who (early 70's), as well as the Tom Baker season of Doctor Who that featured the Key of Time sequence. And I would really like to find Me and My Girl (1984-88), as well as the Faking It shows from both Britain and the U.S.

From Australia, I'm really only currently hunting for Raw FM, which ran for 13 episodes in 1997.

TV: Good News About Ashes to Ashes

The best part of the season finale for Ashes to Ashes was the cultured British voice at the end saying, "Ashes to Ashes returns to BBC 1 for a new series next year."

Which means the saga of Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt continues. Guess Philip Glenister didn't get his wish for his character to go out on his shield ... yet. I still think the core concept of the series, transplanting 21st century cops back a few decades to guide Hunt past his baser moments has a third series to go. Hunt was good in 1970's Manchester in Life on Mars and better now in 1980's London in this series. Having sent a man back in the first series and a woman back in this one, you have the choice of a bordering-on-the-grave Hunt himself or a kid as the next traveler. I like the kid idea myself, going back to face a retired Hunt, working occasionally as a private detective in the 1990's.

But enough of repeating myself.

The series seemed to hinge half-way through. Keeley Hawes's Alex Drake went undercover plenty in the first half of the series, much to the delight of anybody who would find Hawes fetching in a Catwoman suit. The last half of the series, she more or less buckled down to just investigating after the fact, while trying to prevent the upcoming murder of her parents. Rather than drag the parental tragedy out to a second season, the creators of Ashes to Ashes decided to wrap it up in the first season finale.

It was fairly satisfying. It hopefully puts an end to the Bowie clown character from her nightmares. Whether that ups the quotient of voices in her head coming from the TV or elsewhere remains to be seen. I hope not. Some will have to stay, if only to create a need for her to wrap up her little visit to the past. I just like the simple police part of the show.

The "Sam and Diane" plot line asking if she and Hunt will hook up, cooled off immensely over the last half, but remained on the back-burner. Essentially, this becomes the focus for the second season. And who could vote against the big brutish DCI finally achieving happiness with Alex in his arms. She'll disappear back to now, leaving him wondering if HE was just having a dream, but that's for episode eight next year.

In the meantime, hunt for the Ashes to Ashes DVD's when they come out, as a companion for your Life on Mars DVD sets. You DO have them, don't you?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

LIFE: The Difference Between Boys and Girls

Watching the Texas broadcast of the Toronto Blue Jays-Texas Rangers game tonight. One of the announcers brought up the old saw about Rico Carty (a former Ranger and a THREE-time former Jay) playing games while carrying around his wallet in his back pocket. The Beeg Mon was notoriously distrustful of banks. As far as I know, the story is apocryphal, not true. The announcers sided with me.

That's not to say I'm not familiar with ballplayers filling their backpockets with foreign objects.

Back in the days when I was still coaching town rep softball, I had occasion to go from coaching boys to girls one summer. I usually did a bit of both, but this summer, I was at liberty and a pal who was coaching the bantam girls rep team more or less cajoled Gerry Harvey and myself to help him out. I'd coached some of the 13-14 year olds in training camps before and I was fairly tired with the politics of the boys' organization, so I gave in to temptation. It wasn't a full-time gig, but it kept my hand in coaching. Jim and Gerry did almost all the work.

As it turns out, the squad found itself playing in the Ontario B finals against Oshawa Storey Park. Playing at Storey Park was interesting. It was the worst diamond I've ever played on, including ones that were admittedly asphalt. This was like concrete, hard enough to play basketball on. I admit, I had serious misgivings letting our ladies play on it. But I got outvoted, some huge number to one.

The pitcher for our team was Kelly Hrysko. I had a background with the Hrysko family. I had coached her younger brother as a 10-year old. Joey was one of the few first-years on my first rep team (as a head coach). Joey was a delightful kid, as was the eldest sister, Terry. Each was a competitor, but tended to internalize things. Soft-spoken like their parents, Joey and Terry were joys to coach.

Kelly was a challenge. A hair-trigger temper made her the exception to the family rule. Blessed with looks, personality and athletic talent, Kelly only needed self-control to be a star. An example of her self control issues was her inability to pitch when her dad showed up. I could understand that. Ron Hrysko never said a cross word to me in all the time I knew him. And I was deathly afraid of him. Think Armand Asante thinking about your destruction. That was the look and vibe he gave off. Pleasant man by all reports, he just made me weak in the knees.

His daughter would storm off, rather than let him sit and watch her pitch. Again, to the best of my knowledge, he never raised a voice to her during any of the tempter tantrums. He'd sit in the car and watch from long distance.

Okay, the circumstances have been set. A couple of other details. Kelly's best friend was Liz Hamilton, a catcher type who occasionally played the outfield. Like this day. Early in the game, Liz miscalculated on a fly ball and that mistake put our girls down 1-0. Kelly was a hard friend. She pulled a Dave Stieb, stomping around, showing her obvious displeasure at her (former) best friend. She stayed frosty towards her pal as the innings mounted up and we still trailed 1-0.

Late in the game, two out and the bases empty. Kelly got up and laced a line drive down the line. She hauled butt around the bases and slid home in a small talcum dust cloud. SAFE! She got up bawling her eyes out.

I rushed in to get her, thinking that she was crying over the fact she could be friends with Liz again. I thought that was what girls did. I asked her if she was all right, why she was crying.

The words came out in stuttering slowness. "I ... I ... I ..."

"You can be friends with Liz, again?"

"N... No ... No... I... I... st-stabbed myself!"

She turned around. She had a comb in her back pocket. The kind that was popular with the afro-wearing crowd, but was also used by girls with what we would call 'Big Hair' these days. You know the kind. A paintbrush handle with four or five prongs coming out of the base. Today, that brush would get confiscated at any airport in the world. Then, it was an incredibly dangerous thing to go round running with. Didn't matter.

The girl simply could not play ball without have a comb in her pocket.

And that's the difference between boys and girls.

SPORTS: Worthy Captain?

Alexei Kovalev has had a season almost beyond compare in his lengthy NHL career. Not surprisingly, it came in a contract year, his previous best seasons coming in the cashout position for his contracts. Based on last year, Kovalev went undrafted in our roto league last fall.

Obviously he got picked up when it became apparent that the mercurial Russian would be applying himself this year. As a Montreal Canadiens fan, all I had to say was merci beaucoup! With largely the same components as last year's non-playoff team, the Habs vaulted from nowhere to the conference regular season championship. A large percentage of that improvement was directly attributable to Kovalev, who played at a high level AND shepherded Motnreal's young Russian contingent through the learning curve he went through last century.

Naturally, when captain Saku Koivu went down with a foot injury the weekend before the playoffs, it was Kovalev that the club hung the 'C' on until Koivu could make it back into the line-up. Certainly wasn't a bad choice by my estimation.

Saturday night, Kovalev brought the choice into question all by his selfish lonesome. Killing a penalty in a one-goal game against the gritty Boston Bruins, Kovalev failed to convert on a breakaway, finding himself coming in off the wrong wing for his patented shootout scoring routine. His backhand slipped off into a corner. He got landed on by a Bruin defender and then commited almost the ultimate in selfish acts. He was P.O.'d and got up off the ice and slashed the Bruin player in the derriere.

Toot!!! The referee put Kovalev into the penalty box and Montreal into a two-man disadvantage.

With Montreal down the two men, the Bruins converted to tie the game. A game Montreal controlled throughout now ended up going into overtime. Momentum, fickle at the best of times, had just been handed to the vastly-underdog Bruins. All because Kovalev couldn't resist the little boys' impulse to strike out at those that frustrate us. He put his juvenility ahead of the team's needs and goals. This is the action of a captain?

Most certainly not!

But in all morality plays, the fallen hero must get one more chance at redemption. And so, it was Kovalev who scored the winning goal very early in overtime. He was the hero, after all.

Does that make him a worthy captain? It's a question without an answer.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

SPORTS: Nesterovic, An Appreciation

The other night, Rasho Nesterovic had a bad game for the Toronto Raptors. It happens so rarely these days, that I marked it down to comment on here in Mug Shots. It also got me thinking. I don't think the big Slovenian has gotten the proper recognition he's due this year. For the last half of this season, he's been the most consistently good Raptor not named Chris Bosh. And I could make a case that he's been better than Bosh on meeting his playing goals.

I've used Rasho and his eight million dollar salary as both a bit of a joke and as the promise that he'll bring real value when he's gone. Can't wait to acquire some REAL talent with his expiring contract, or failing that, when he no longer has a contract. Better be a REALLY, REALLY good talent, cuz Nesterovic has been doing a stellar job of late.

Not a lot of people notice. He's been double-doubling so often of late so far under the radar, that you never see his name amongst the top four statistical performers as adjudged by each game. They don't notice him. I barely notice him, if only to trade him or to mis-spell his name. (Yeah, do a search for Nestorovic. The search won't come up empty. For shame).

He seems satisfied to get his 10-14 points and he wants 10 rebounds, but he's often content to punch the ball to a teammate rather than grabbing it himself. That doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but it helps his team win. He quarterbacks the defence when the Raptors are in the mood, and it is maddening that the team can play defence with the top ten and with the bottom five. Most times, the better defence is when he's on the floor. He will also foul an opponent hard, something the Raptors are loathe to do, even when that opponent used to wear #15 in Raptor purple. The colour and the former star are gone (as in out of the playoffs, heh, heh, heh).

It's a fact. Nesterovic's teams have never missed the playoffs. Something you can't say .... okay, I was about the beat a dead horse, heh, heh, heh.

Lately, Nesterovic has been playing so much, you can actually see him tiring out. Then a Milwaukee and Charlie Villanueva will come to town and you'll see Rasho faking shots and driving the hoop for layups and Kareem skyhooks. He and enfant terrible TJ Ford have an alley-oop pass worked out that allows the seven-foot centre to jump the minimal amount required by law to call it an alley-oop.

I haven't talked to Nesterovic myself, but people I respect, respect the heck out of him. They say he's funny too. He's the deadpan setup guy with the occasional zinger to lay on the brethren. I would have questioned the observer, except I've actually seen him yukking it up a bit on the bench since Primoz Brezec came over at the trade deadline. The same observer thinks Prezec is a marginal talent and a bit of a headcase, but his reuniting with his fellow countryman has had a good effect on Nesterovic. In fact, Nesterovic's string of good performances really started the night of that trade.

There was a time where I pictured Nesterovic's contract and those of Joey Graham and assorted other non-playing Raptor minions to be most valuable being traded. Now, I hope the Raptors find a way to keep Rasho around, even past next season. The trading chip that has to go is Ford's even bigger contract. Hopefully, the Twit Texan will bring the Raptors the athletic, defence-first, slashing wing player they need. That way, they can keep Nesterovic, draft a big guy (Roy Hibbert or Hasheem Thabeet), and keep Nesterovic around to play AND tutor his successor.

Although for a little less than eight million a season.

Friday, April 11, 2008

MISC: Notes From Everywhere

Random thoughts from different places and times ...

Frank Thomas at the plate with the winning run at third and one out. If this was a movie, say Mr. Baseball, the Big Hurt bunts down the first-base line as the winning run crosses the plate. He'd be a hero, just like Tom Selleck was. Instead, Big Frank swings away and strikes out. The Blue Jays do not score and lose in extra innings. Can Frank bunt?

During the odd occasion of my being out this week (I needed my warm-weather ketchup, all 24 bottles of it), I saw a crossing walk sign that counted down the seconds instead of showing the steady CAN WALK graphic symbol. Smart idea, the kind that make you go, "I wish I'd thought of that!"

Caught a Monk episode from last year, Mr. Monk and the Rapper. Starred Snoop Dogg. From the rapped intro music to the acting of Snoop, it was a very, very good episode of the show. Snoop seems a living dichotomy, but he rarely fails to entertain. Would make a FASCINATING guest at your next brunch.

As I get older, I become more and more afraid of Alzheimer's Disease. It's the thing I fear most. It doesn't help that I'm having more and more problems remembering facts I DO know. It's not completely new, I occasionally obsess over a similar sounding name and can't get IT out of my head to let the real fact come in. Case in point: I was on the Headline Hunters TV game show about a hundred years ago (last century in fact). The Who Am I question started with something along the lines of "I set three American records in track and field in my first meet ever." I KNEW it was Jesse Owens immediately. But the night before, I'd watched Jessie O'Neill of the Saskatchewan Roughriders dominate the football game. Could NOT get O'Neill out and let Owens in ... at least until the fourth clue. So, I've been 'forgetting' for at least a quarter-century. It's just more prevalent these days.

A favourite memory from my reporting days: Cloudy September day with rain feeling like it's coming any second. I'm at Chinguacousy Park watching a track and field meet for Special Olympians. A group of young contestants are over at the standing broad jump pit. One of the boys is lined up at the board getting ready to jump. His eyes are clamped shut, his mouth a rictus of determination. He's pumping his fists getting ready to jump out into space. Finally, he throws his arms back and then forward, screams a 'YAAAAAA' and leaps out from the board. And lands, maybe, three inches from where he started. He's immediately mobbed by his fellow competitors, all congratulating him on the effort. Felt like going over there and doing the same myself. Whether he won or not that day doesn't matter. He and his friends sure felt he did.

And reversing back to that Headline Hunters appearance. The TV I won that night still works and was the family TV until replaced by a big rear-projection LCD two years ago. More than 25 years of service and now it's a credenza, but it COULD serve in a pinch. It's replacement? I'm thinking of replacing it already.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

SPORTS: The Stanley Cup, in Review

The Stanley Cup playdowns started tonight and it will be hockey every night for the next two months. It was also the time to get Pool sheets into various pools, including the one I run, the Ed Jovanovski Memorial Stanley Cup Pool.

Ed Jovanovski is not dead. It's just that any team with him on it has failed abysmally throughout this century. It's death to the hope of winning, to have Jovo on your pool team. Ergo, the title.

Turning to the prognostications. At the start of the year, I basically figured Pittsburgh and Philly to occupy the top two spots. I though Jersey and Ottawa would slide below the Pennsylvania duo, with Washington winning that weak division in between. The last three spots would be held down by the Rangers, Buffalo and one of Tampa Bay or Carolina. Conspicuous by their absence in my predicted list of playoff teams was Montreal, my favourite team. And the 2007-2008 Eastern Conference champions.

So take what I say with a proverbial grain of salt.

We all know my pet approach to picking pools. Champion your B choice while pointing how good the real object of your affection is. It would do me proud to see les Habitants once more in their natural position atop the hockey world. So I'm picking Pittsburgh to win the East.

The Penguins started out just perfectly tonight. Good performances by Gary Roberts and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and no over-reliance on Sidney Crosby. The way I see it, Pittsburgh rolls Ottawa and then has a slightly tougher tussle with the Rangers in round two. Montreal sends Boston back to the Eastern seaboard and awaits the survivor of the Washington-Philly series. Justice would see Washington getting Alexander Ovechkin a prolonged spring sprint, but I think the Flyers mug the Capitals en route to coming up against a team quite capable of playing bully hockey. It's the pounding that Montreal will take at the hands of the Broadstreet Bullies that will give the Penguins the edge in the Eastern final.

The West promises four entertaining series again this year. Calgary has already put a higher-seed notch on the belt, having downed San Jose opening night. That matches Colorado's overtime win over higher-seeded Minnesota. In fact, I expect Colorado to continue its upsetting ways, while San Jose has the wake-up call it needed to get going. It's the first regulation time loss by the Sharks in 21 contests.

In the other two series, the favoured Anaheim Ducks (defending Cup champions) and the Detroit Red Wings (regular season champs), will get tested but will get through. The second round will see the two teams' results diverge. The Ducks can't score enough to beat San Jose. But Detroit rides an adequate Dominik Hasek by the plucky Colorado Avalanche.

The West final comes down to goaltending, and it's there that Hasek comes asunder and bows to the season-long brilliance that has been Evgeni Nabokov. He hasn't been statistically great, but he's won all season long.

In the Stanley Cup itself, Pittsburgh will relearn the lessons of Ottawa from last year. The West is best. The 2008 Stanley Cup will be hoisted by the San Jose Sharks in a relatively easy victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

TV: Ladies of the TV Night

The mention of Eliot Spitzer in the previous post obviously brings up the subject of sex workers. And being a TV nut, it also brings up the subject as it pertains to TV.

Here in North America, we prefer our ladies of the night to work on the big screen, not on the small screen. Pretty Woman was one successful movie the TV people made NO attempt to turn into a TV series. The subject is taboo here. Across the pond and under the world, not so much.

The show Spitzer SHOULD have been home watching instead of indulging his fantasies in person was a British show called The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. The show, shown here on Bravo, featured Doctor Who companion Billy Piper doing the mock documentary thing about her business. Piper, who's playing a looooong way away from Doctor Who's Rose, tries to be as frank as possible about the ups and downs of the biz.

Now, I'll admit, seeing Piper nekkid was the driving force in watching the show in the first place. But the allure of that particular bit of flesh turned secondary as she portrayed a character in badly need of a shake-up in her life. The overly-detailed opening episodes turned into character pieces by the end of the season. The happy-go-lucky commentator on the how-to's of the business in the first episodes became a disillusioned young lady seriously in need of a new career. The friend/boyfriend/friend, so irksome at the beginning, became a pillar to be admired. It's actually an interesting series of half-hours.

Much, much better was the Australian take on a middle-class house of ill repute in the suburbs. Satisfaction is basically Desperate Housewives WITH the sex, full frontal included. It's entertaining, amusing and heart-breaking. Like Secret Diary, it's certain that any idolistic person who believes in the romanticism of the sex trade, won't after see this. From jaded super-call girl Mel, played by Madeleine West to not-yet jaded rookie Tippi, played by Bojana Novakovic, the business houses all types of sex workers of the female persuasion. The business is shown in about as good a light as it can be shown.

The effects on the home-life of the workers? Not so much. Still, it's a good series and I'm glad a second series (which will tie up the dead body at the end of the first one) has been ordered.

In America, the sex has to be secondary to the plot, not to be THE plot. That leads to such series last season as Californication and Tell Me You Love Me.

Californication had David Duchovny playing a blocked writer who works through the block with drugs, booze and a succession of women. I had to watch it, cuz one of those women was Paula Marshall, a lust object for much of the last two decades. She does not disappoint. On the other hand, the noted series killer (she's quickly killed off more than 10 series at this point), is in only one episode. Also disappointing is the fact that another of the conquests is a 16-year old girl. Well, maybe girl is putting it too indelicately. Psychotic narcissist might be more accurate. But still ..., 16! Overlooking that, the show's worth the time, especially if you're female and have a healthy lust for Duchovny.

Tell Me You Love Me had yet another middle-aged mommy who I've thought highly of over the years, Ally Walker. Waited ten looooooong episodes of brain-numbing depression to finally see Walker starkers. Wasn't worth it. Under no circumstances, especially if already depressed, should you watch this show in re-runs. Simply dreadful.

Sexpertise might not be my milieu, but it's like art. You know good sex entertainment when you see it. Hope this guide helps you avoid the American approach and wait out the arrival of the good stuff from overseas.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

LIFE: Making the Non-Innocent Pay

If you want to make money illegally, you have to have a willing partner. The person (euphemistically referred to as The Guy from here on), must be willing to give you money as part of the illegal transaction. Now, such as in the case of a protection racket, or a superior con, The Guy can be a dupe. But MOST times, The Guy knows that he is participating in something totally wrong.

An example of The Guy getting his just deserts is when The Guy's name gets published as part of a sting against prostitution setups. Eliot Spitzer is an example of The Guy. I don't actually think prostitution SHOULD be a crime, but it's on the books. As a result, I don't think it would be right for me to risk liberty and diet (I'd die from prison food-itis), just for a happy moment or two. I KNOW it's against the law.

Similarly, if somebody sidles up to me and offers to bump off a particularly nasty human being (You know who YOU are), even for the bargain-basement price of say 10 bucks, I'm smart enough to say no. Same goes for offering me a portion of Nigerian banking loot. In fact, most all Internet scams require stupidity to such a level, it's hard to imagine ANYBODY falling for them.

Which brings me to a possible solution to internet spam. Getting the people BEHIND the spam has been a losing proposition. A handful of purveyors of the problem have been jailed, as opposed to my solution, which involves Cuban Death Squads. Getting to them, as they increasingly are turning out to be Russian and Chinese organized crime figures, rather than the chubby kid living in the house he just bought for mom and dad, so he could continue living with them, has proven difficult. No, it's time to criminalize purchasing off spam.

Yep. The government of the worlds should band together. Monitor the spam and the payment/purchase method required to convert the spam into money for the spammer. If a person buys something through a spam offer, throw them in jail for six months. Their computer will provide all the evidence you need. So what if it was little Johnny doing the buying late at night when The Guy and his wife/girlfriend/mistress/boyfriend/significant other/plastic blow-up doll are upstairs sleeping. Guilty of lack of parental control. Six months. Double the sentence with each conviction.

I know this is more or less, a legislated Just-Say-No campaign. But consider the differences. You can basically use computers to do ALL of the legwork on this. No police cadets just out of the academy out there dressed drearily to catch dope peddlers. Silicon's cheap. No ridiculous PR events lauding the catching of some gigantic stash of drugs with an over-inflated media value. There WOULD NOT be any arrests of the spammers. Just an attempt to choke off the reasons spammers spam.


If there aren't any customers, there will be no spam. Well, no spam in its current form. Right now, spam works because a fraction of a per cent, say 0.001 per cent, of a spammed list of email addresses, responds to that spam. That is one in a hundred thousand. When you send out 100 million spam mails with the press of a finger, you are going to get a thousand responses. Make 20 bucks a pop and the finger you used to push the button, earned you 20 grand.

Under my scheme, the spammer still makes his 20 grand on message one. The government jails 10 per cent of the The Guys that paid up, cutting them out of answering the spammer's NEXT beckoning call to the foolish. It might take a series of 10 arrests or so, but eventually, the government gets all of The Guys who make the spammer's work profitable. Through education, scare tactics and actual incarceration, the spammer now finds his emails attract a profit of zero.

Not sure of why his once-profitable email campaign now COSTS him money, the spammer tries a few variations on the theme. Some momentarily revive the flagging profitability. But eventually, those tactics die out too. The spammer moves on to other crimes, such as protection and prostitution.

Look, if you're not The Guy, my plan has no effect on you. Sure, you might end up missing your next door neighbour for awhile, while he works off his time in Fool's Prison. But my guess is, that The Guy was probably a windbag and you didn't much enjoy having him and his family over for a barbeque all that much. And yes, you WILL have to monitor the family credit card and make sure Junior isn't doing his best to get you tossed into Fool's Prison. Might help to get on good terms with the kids.

But it will certainly make you feel better when you get up in the morning and see a mailbox empty, save for messages your kids and their spouses are sending you about the latest kid's birth, complete with pictures of the wizened little Yoda.

Assuming you're NOT The Guy.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

SPORTS: Pitching fashion

It goes without saying that major league baseball players have lots of money to drop on bling. Look no further than pitchers, who frequently have the value of a new car hanging from their ears and around their necks. But lately, the bling seems to have been joined by some bling blah.

Watch pitcher closeups the next time the Blue Jays play. It seems every pitcher is wearing these necklaces that look like the mating of a rope lariat and a bicycle lock. I can't believe they're comfortable. I think Roy Halladay was the first to wear them. And just like fashion victims, the rest of the staff followed along.

And the way the team is pitching, won't be long before the whole league is wearing them.

SPORTS: Rock Chalk Jayhawk

I take full credit for tonight's victory by the Kansas Jayhawks over the Memphis Tigers in the NCAA men's basketball final in San Antonio.

My oh-so-clever plan to NOT pick Kansas paid off in the hoped for Kansas victory (although a Memphis win WOULD have placed me second in the pool at I point out the clever between-the-lines support for Kansas in my prior posts. Really, it IS there. You just have to go back and read them again.

Entertaining basketball, overtime, thrilling comeback and the right outcome. A good night.

Monday, April 07, 2008

LIFE: Martin Luther King and Encarta

The recent passing of the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination was a time to remember. Even in the software world.

When Microsoft Encarta first debuted, I was one of the first buyers. I tested it out as I had done each of the various digital encyclopedias I had come across and it passed with flying colours.

What I wanted Encarta and ANY encyclopedia do was to hear sounds and see videos. For me, there were four tests. I had to hear John F. Kennedy's "Ask Not" speech and his "Ich bin Ein Berliner" speech, Neil Armstrong's "One small step..." speech and, most importantly, King's "I Have a Dream" speech. And there had to be grainy video to go with each.

In a lot of ways, those four speeches, all delivered by Americans, shaped a lot of how I grew up, up here in Canada. Kennedy's assassination was the first instance in my young life when a world event caused school to be canceled here. I was in the third grade at the time. I wasn't exactly reading biographies at the time, but the event did cause me to read about Kennedy a few years later when I WAS capable of reading, and comprehending, weightier tomes. Oddly enough, the assassination itself never enveloped me. I was interested in the man's words.

Five years after Kennedy's death, I became acquainted with the words of Martin Luther King for all the wrong reasons. Still, the words moved me. I was just a teenager at the time, and forming my world view that prejudice existed everywhere. Within me, within my family and friends. It's a natural state of being. But RACISM, the acting out of prejudice in a blind, stupid manner ... that was wrong. I've pretty well always had friends who didn't share my skin colour, religion or race. King's words had a lot to do with that becoming a life-long habit.

Finally, a year later, I tried desperately to stay up and watch Armstrong step out onto the moon. I also wanted desperately for the deed to get done on the 18th of July, rather than the wee hours of the 20th. I would have been celebrating my 13th birthday in really special way. For a young lad smitten with science fiction, it was a heady event.

Each encyclopedia that came out on CD back in those days, took entire encyclopedia's of text and added sparing video and audio. Interactive wasn't much of an idea back then. Still, with a half-way decent encyclopedia, I could bring up any of those four speeches. Shivers would go up my spine.

They still do, as my YouTube search for each of them proved tonight.

There wasn't a YouTube back then. Good quality video of the events I've described was hard to come by. Until Encarta came out. I opened the box, installed the program and immediately ran my own personal test. Encarta completely ensorcelled me. And like any good encyclopedia, perusing and browsing through it led me to many different other places and times. I found a series of simple translations of common phrases for many, many languages. I stopped buying Encarta when they lost that feature.

I know some kids think history is boring. If it existed before the age of iPods, it has to be ancient and boring. But there is SOOOOO much to find of worth. Sure, the web has made browsing through an encyclopedia obsolete. Today, you go RIGHT to the relevant article(s). But take a minute to search Google or YouTube for the speeches I've pointed out.

You might just learn or relearn something, such as the fact that Armstrong's speech actually starts, "It's a small step...!"


I need money to pay off the Rogers' robber barons. Unfortunately, the baseball rotisserie league isn't going to happen this year for a variety of reasons. But there IS the Ed Jovanovski Memorial Stanley Cup Pool to tide me over. I am sending out the entry form tonight, so you SHOULD see it Monday morning.

If, in fact, you don't get one. (I'm getting old and I forgot to click on addresses all the time), drop me a note.

Of course, everybody's fighting for the spot (or spots) just behind my entries. As defending champion after stopping Eddie Tesser's three-year reign of upsets, I expect to add the EJVSCP winnings to my regular season winnings.

See ya in the email.

COMPUTERS: The Countdown Begins

Well, the countdown to the expiration of my Rogers account has begun.

As outlined earlier, I'm over the download limit for my Rogers Extreme Unlimited account ... the one with limits. I then got an email informing me I was over my monthly limit ... on April 4th. That prompted me to check out the url to see just what the ghost of Arthur C. Clarke they were talking about. I believe it's close to impossible to download more than 95GIGs of material in three days (since the email was sent at 12:41 AM on the 4th).

Couldn't access it. At least, not without signing up for On-Line Billing. I would then have two choices, give them my banking information and pay the bank's transaction fee, or print out their bill for them at MY cost and save them printing and mailing costs. We're talking a half-buck. This gigantic, profit-printing corporation that chortles with gleeful avarice about acquiring the SkyDome for fractions of a penny on a dollar, needs more of those fractions from me. It's negative optioning under the latest Rogers wallpapering. Heads I spend, tails I spend. The coin won't come down anyway. It's in their corporate pocket.

Let's combine this hiding of what they feel is a pretty important tool to let me be a good customer, with a policy since January at the local Rogers store. I can't pay my bill with just my phone number and a bunch of coloured paper in my hand. No, I have to have the bill. Either one hand doesn't know what the other is doing, or the hands are working all to well ... to rough me up.

The email I sent Rogers support came back canned, with NO mention of on-line billing or keepingpace. So I called tonight, at 12:32 AM and talked to Stacey. Polite and tried very hard to be accommodating, while steadfastly maintaining that it's corporate policy and there wasn't much she could do. Nothing in fact. "What exactly do you want me to do, sir?" she asked.

Nothing. Tell the bosses at Rogers that they can't promote a tool and then, without saying so, require I give Rogers money to use it. Tell them that I will be a Bell customer the first time I see a surcharge on my account, even though, as she points out, the surcharge Bell charges is close to highway robbery itself at $7.25 per gig, compared to Rogers' rather benign buck a gig. And do Bell centres take account payments anymore? No. Not the point. I'll pay at the bank, like I always do. But I've AGREED to do that. Tell them to put the date range of the 'month' they were referring to, since April means March 8th to April 7th.

Apparently, the worst of my support time on-line with my Dad and Casey will be behind me come the surcharge start period. I'll probably be under and might NEVER see a surcharge. I might never be forced by Rogers to cross the street.

But the clock is counting. The end is in sight.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

SPORTS: Blue Jays Home Opener Miscellania

Opening night was quite successful for the Toronto Blue Jays this year. It usually is, although a win over Boston in such a contest was unknown until tonight. Now the Jays are 1-2 against Boston in Toronto home openers. So it was the usual unusual start the team was looking for.

Peering below, you'll find that I'm a big fan of Tim Wakefield and not such a big fan of Shaun Marcum. Nothing against Marcum, but I thought he was lucky last year. Tonight, he was unlucky. He hung a single bad pitch and ended up giving up three runs in a single JD Drew stroke. Would his lucky streak from last year end prematurely? Nope. Sitting in the dugout, done for the night, his team rallied for the winning runs. Casey Stengel got it right, it's better to be lucky then good. On the other hand, Marcum was both tonight.

My other dire forecast victim for the season is Frank Thomas. And he got the key hit tonight. I'm not looking good right now.

The Jays wore their powder blues tonight. Toronto Blue Jays SHOULD be wearing Toronto double blue with red trim (see Maple Leaf flag, see Canada's ONLY team). Until the Jays shuck the ugly uni's with the loathsome logo and the black and silver trim, the team will NOT make the playoffs. I'm sick and tired of teams catering to hip-hop non-baseball fans with their black and silver Raider rip-offs. Toronto wears blue. And Toronto should have red trim. And the team should be sporting a Maple Leaf prominently. End of fashion segment.

The Jays signed Alex Rios and Aaron Hill to long-term contracts today. Good.

The Jays added Paul Beeston and the Human Rainstorm, Roberto Alomar, to the Ring of Excellence. Or whatever it's called. Good for Beeston. Had he been still running the club, operating with a nine-figure budget, we would have had another couple of championships since we last hoisted the World Series Trophy back in 1993. He'd have hired a good GM and kept the family atmosphere with this team intact.

As for Alomar, who spat at an umpire and then blamed it all on the ump's dead kid the next day (long after the heat of the moment had passed), I regret seeing his name up there. Undoubtedly the most talented player ever to wear Jay blues, he also pulled a Carter and quit on the team in an effort to usher his way out of town. That's the way I remember him.

Marco Scutaro leads the American League in stolen bases. A TORONTO Blue Jay leads the league in stolen bases. Either statement before the season would have been legal cause for internment in Bedlam.

Four Blue Jay starters have all turned in quality starts. There's a trend there.

Finally, a word about the most impressive Blue Jay of the past week. Brian Tallet has been dominating in his two appearances. If this continues, then the Jays probably have the best bullpen in the league. There's going to some nervousness over Accardo and eventually Ryan, but starters going six plus and having Tallet bridging to the final pair makes for a LOT of confidence.

SPORTS: I'm a BIG Wakefield Fan

I doubt that there is any bigger fan of Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox in the Southern Ontario area. I think he's one of the most valuable pitchers in the American League, and has been for some time.

Doesn't make sense to call a fifth starter an MVP (Most Valuable Pitcher) candidate, but I think I can make a case for it.

A lot of good teams scramble to find a fifth starter who won't lose twice as much as he wins. Wakefield is a 14-11 kind of guy, year in, year out. That plus-three wins stat often translates into a six to ten game bulge over the equivalent spot in a lot of other teams' rotations. That's the difference between playoffs and not playoffs. Take it from a Toronto Blue Jays fan.

But there is more to Wakefield than the record. Wakefield's been pretty durable over the years, getting the benefit of the knuckleball throwing style. Easy on the arm. He's answered the bell an awful lot of times over the years. He's been a bullpen saver, even pitching between turns on the rotation. His ability to keep pitching means occasionally taking his lumps when the knuckleball isn't acting like a punch-drunk butterfly. But balancing that, are the times when the bullpen's exhausted and the manager doesn't want to or can't throw somebody out there for another consecutive day. Wakefield is right there to solve the problem.

Then there is the 'day after' effect. Regardless of how Wakefield does, the fact is that the opposition batters see knuckleballs in their nightmares after the game. Often takes them a couple of games to recalibrate their batting stroke after looking like a fool the night of Wakefield's start. Check out the winning record of the Bosox AFTER a Wakefield game. Well above .600. It's NOT a co-incidence.

And isn't it great to have a guy who can switch back AND forth between starting and oh, say CLOSING. I know Jason Varitek wasn't thrilled during Wakefield's closing days, but he was quite successful in the role. No one wishes ill on Jon Papelbon, but Boston knows, if worse came to worse (say like it did already with Seattle's JJ Putz), the team has an experienced closer on staff already. That has to be comforting.

Finally, watching Wakefield pitch is fun for fans, of which I am one. Baseball is SUPPOSED to be entertaining. Wakefield makes every pitch an adventure. He isn't particularly adept at holding runners on, so there's lots of base-stealing ... or at least attempts. It's about as close to run-and-gun basketball as baseball gets.

That's why I am a big fan. With Wakefield, entertainment doesn't take a back seat.

Friday, April 04, 2008

SOFTWARE: Delphi's My Money-Maker

As I have said before, I make my money programming these days. It's the (probable) last stop in a varied career where I have been a Sports Reporter/Columnist, a radio station Sports Announcer, a PR flack for the American Contract Bridge League, an arena announcer for the Continental Basketball Association Toronto Tornadoes and have been involved in a comic store operation.

But for the last umpteen years, I have used Borland/CodeGear products like Paradox and then Delphi to do my programming work. I've done a fair bit of stuff that I'm proud of, yet I cringe whenever I see anything older than about three years. I get better virtually daily, learning something new just about weekly. For instance, I have finally figured out how to inform somebody selecting from a list that what they typed isn't IN the list, and that the automatic matching stopped a few keystrokes ago. A LOT of people just ignore beeps and popups. You'd be surprised. Now, I've developed a method that does NOT allow them to ignore my warnings. Very gratifying. To me.

I'm completely self-taught as a programmer. I did get some computer credits during my time at York University (while I was in high school). But the language of choice back then was Basic and Fortran. I write in Delphi's dialect of Pascal these days.

Pascal is what is called a Strongly Typed language. Had Windows been written in Pascal, we'd have one gazillionth (gazillion being the million-dollar word of the day, you'll see) of the security problems that the operating system has today. The buffer overflows that permeate Windows would actually be rarities if the system was written in Pascal. But c'est la vie.

Most of my learning is picking apart working example code. I'm a copy, paste, change and compile kind of learner. I have the books. I've watched seminars and training videos. And it all comes down to doing the changes yourself and seeing the effects. I know SOME programmers can just sit down and write code top to bottom. I can't. It's all got to be done piecemeal. And on my biggest project, I've got a little over two million lines of code written over the last 15 years. That's a lot of bacon.

Today, programmers write for the web, THEN the desktop. Using Visual Studio from Microsoft to write .Net framework stuff is the fastest route to employment for many new programmers. Hot new languages like PHP and Python and Ruby on Rails have supplanted Java and even C# as the environments of the moment. Lots of ads out there for them, too.

Delphi just simply chugs along as being one of the best implementations of one of the best programming languages ever. It lets an uneducated guy like me make a decent living making pretty decent programs. Easy to learn, efficient working output and still room for newbies to make their mark. I invite any young programmer-to-be to check it out.

Just stay away from my clients.