Saturday, May 31, 2008


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Friday, May 30, 2008

SPORTS: The Seven Magic Words

Wednesday-night's NBA semi-final clash between the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons was almost decided by referees handing out technical fouls late in the game, first to Rasheed Wallace and then to Kendrick Perkins. In both cases, it was something they said, since their level of visual complaint didn't raise to the level of technical, late in a close game. See Bryant,Kobe for the lower limit of what you CAN get away with.

Since I don't know WHAT they said, I assume it was at least one of the Seven Magic Words, which I am NOT going to detail for you here. Suffice to say, all officials in all sports will listen to entertaining complaints, even virulent ones. But if you say any of the magic words, especially in companionship with the word 'mother,' then it comes down to whether to toss the player or hit him with some punishment just short of expulsion. The list DOES vary between sports and between age groups. For me, when I was younger, the list included a name. Hitler.

First, let me assure you I looked nothing like Hitler in my teenage days. Didn't grow a moustache until well into my 20's. And I never wore my hair all that short. Still don't. Sooooo, how'd I end up throwing a manager out for saying, "Stop acting like a little Hitler ...?"

My first year of managing town rep teams was exhausting. I was a 16-year old running the town's 10-11 year old rep team, the Bramalea Buckaroos Squirts. The Bramalea Boys Softball Association was in desperate straights when they gave me the job, pairing me with a much older, wiser man in Barry Murphy. More about him in a future post. Still, I was worn out after coaching the Buckaroos that year.

The next season, I helped out with a couple of teams and coached one myself, back in house league. I also did some umpiring. And one of those games was a game between my old team, the Bramalea squirt reps, and a team from Eringate, coached by the same fellow that had coached against me the year before. He wasn't the most pleasant of sorts. He's also probably old enough now to be in a retirement home. So why kick dirt on his memories? Well...

When I umpired, I ALWAYS told both managers that I had an absolute rule about the use of the Seven Magic Words. I never defined the words then, either. I told them it was immediate expulsion to use any of them. And I'd tell them this was their warning. That tended to give me the reputation as a man with a quick hook. But I only ever tossed one manager in my life. It paid to advertise.

I was umping by myself. There was a play early in the game at second base. Joey Hrysko, the only holdover from my team, was trying to tag the Eringate runner out. That runner was one of the sons of Avellino Gomez. I seem to remember it was Matty, but it might have been Avellino Junior. You ARE talking about 30-plus years ago. When I called time on the play, Joey was straddled over Gomez, who was hugging the base for dear life. As soon as I called the play dead from about 10 feet away (I hustled a fair bit in those days), Gomez pushed off Hrysko, who fell back, but was not hurt in any way.

"You do that again and you're out of the game!" I yelled. The words had barely got out of my mouth when I felt hot breathe against the back of my neck. It was the Eringate manager arriving ready to argue. He started, "Stop acting like a little Hitler."

'You're OUTTA HERE!"

I calmly walked back behind home plate and took out a watch. At thirty seconds I warned him he had another 30 seconds to get on the other side of the road, the nearest point he could exit the park and still see what was going on. He made it with two seconds to spare.

Eringate protested the game afterwards, of course. They lost. Of course. Seems nobody likes being called a Hitler.

Now, that name might not currently be one of the Seven Magic Words. But I bet if somebody used it in a game, the ref or ump of the moment might not have any difficulty adding it to the list.

SPORTS: Cox is Right ... as Usual

Damien Cox, both in his regular Toronto Star column, and at his blog, has correctly identified the smokescreen around the search for a new leader of the Toronto Maple Leafs as, once again, a Richard Peddie production to maintain his control over the sport he shows such complete ignorance about.

Before the Doug Armstrong signing with St. Louis, I thought it possible the Leafs were serious about assembling a team, as farcical as that has historically turned out in T.O., to guide the revamping of the hockey department of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. I figured Armstrong to be the best choice possible to head that revamping,. modeling the group after Detroit's multi-headed hydra. If he could get Dave Nonis or Neil Smith to partner up as the Jim Nill surrogate, even the better. Then, giving Dave Gilmour and possibly Joe Nieuwendyk roles not dissimilar from Steve Yzerman's role would be the third plank in the new platform. Cliff Fletcher would then take on the Scott Bowman role. A raft of scouts would then be plundered from other teams with the lure of big MLSE bucks and the new leaf would be turned over.

But I was wrong. Peddie and his new cohort, Fletcher, stubbornly and vainly hold onto power. The NEW story will be one of awaiting the arrival of Brian Burke about 13 months and two days from now. I suggest to you, that will come a-cropper for some reason too.

Peddie is a brilliant business man, a one-man profit centre that any right-minding company would want involved in their money-making schemes. His price for making others' money? A play toy called the Toronto Maple Leafs. And nobody, not Doug Armstrong, not Damien Cox and the Toronto media and not you or me, is going to take that away. Ever.

As disgraceful as the Ballard death watch was, it will pale in comparison with that of Peddie if 13 months and three days from now, Burke has not arrived. Until then, he can throw up the smokescreen of waiting for that that he promised, a Stanley Cup-winning GM who's the best in the business. That it would be a lie, even if the hunt for Burke is successful doesn't matter a whit. It's all just smoke blowing up your ...

SPORTS: So Pal Joey Gets to Sing Last

The Los Angeles Lakers would have probably won the series anyway. I'd picked them in one of two NBA pools I'm in to do just that. But probably became certainty last night. Or did it actually happen two nights before?

An improbable San Antonio Spurs comeback came within a Joey Crawford non-call of reversing the tide of this series. Yep, the same Joe Crawford, suspended last year after an intemperate meltdown over Tim Duncan laughing at one of his mistakes, looked on with amusement as Derek Fisher body-bumped Brent Barry, then in the act of hoisting up a potential game-winning three. Five minutes into the first quarter, a finger tip grazing the elbow of a shooter results in the toot of a whistle. Last second chance for a home team to win the game with an impossible comeback where the shooter gets crunched? Not in Joey World.

Joey sure showed he was no homer. He watched it all happen from the best spot on the floor and swallowed the whistle that would have likely resulted in a win for San Antonio and two nights of hand-wringing by the Lakers. It was such a bad non-call, the NBA had to admit it 24 hours later. Not that mattered. Revenge is sweet, and for the Spurs, smiles happen.

The Spurs said all the right things. They cast off the referee excuse, knowing they had no rights to be within a missed call of winning (Barry, the son of Rick Barry, would almost certainly have hit all three freebies).

It was a game where the last mistake loses scenario played out like a horror film. Three-time ring-wearing Lakers Fisher and the West Coast Smirk both had gigantic brain cramps in the last minute. Fisher got away with his foul. Kobe Bryant thought to end the farce of a game with a mad dash layup, missing it and not wasting seconds that left open the possibility of a Spur comeback. Still, the Spurs were almost enthusiastic in giving the Lakers repeated chances to put away the game before the end-of-game shenanigans. They rebounded worse than the Toronto Raptors on a bad day. So they deserved to lose too.

Thursday's denouement ran from a hoary old script. The Spurs got out in front and their old legs couldn't carry them over the finish line. There's going to be some major re-tooling of the supporting cast around Duncan, Parker and Ginobili this off-season. And Duncan's not the both-half demon he once was. He's getting old quickly. His second half's have too many missed free throws and turn around half-hooks that too often require a companion rebounder that doesn't exist.

I would sure have liked to see what tonight's game would have looked like, if the Spurs will still jonesing on the adrenalin from an impossible comeback Tuesday, with the Lakers seeing stars over their stars' faux pas (plural). But Joey made sure that didn't happen.

Let's hope he doesn't have any OTHER grudges to work out over the remainder of the NBA playoffs.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

TV: Good Acting Rare

Having a freer-than-expected weekend, I caught up on some TV the last two nights. One of the things that occurred to me is the paucity of good acting. That's not to say there wasn't ANY, as I think two young actors did stand out.

The actors? Matt Dallas, who plays the title character in Kyle XY was absolutely spot on every week. And would you believe (Channeling Don Adams) I think the best I've seen this year might be Jackson Brundage, who plays the five-year-old Jamie Scott in One Tree Hill.

Dallas probably has the most difficult role in TV to play these days. I call it the Spock role. Originally, the Spock role was Leonard Nimoy's Spock character in Star Trek. Brent Spiner then did the next star turn in the role, playing Data in Star Trek The Next Generation. Now, it's Dallas' turn to take on the emotion-hampered cypher role that is Kyle XY in his case, and suffuse it with humanity. All the while having the same general look. In Kyle's case, it's a loopy grin.

Kyle XY is just an excellent TV series overall. Fueled by a believable family group, this SF drama is heading into a third year. And can't come more highly recommended.

One Tree Hill is a teetering senior in terms of TV series. This fifth season was a bold experiment, jumping the characters five years into their own futures. That meant baby Scott at the end of the fourth year morphed in Brundage last fall. And he's the best actor on the set.

Compare him with the Olsen Twins back in their single digit days and I think there's no comparison. Brundage shows a wide variety of facial expressions. Looks AT his fellow actors rather than off-stage to some helper feeding him lines, too. He seems able to do a lot of physical things. It almost feels like he's waaaaay overage playing young. Say a seven year old!!!!

Now I have to admit, turning into One Tree Hill is more reflex than anticipation these days. Hilarie Burton, my preferred eye candy, seems woefully thin these days and needs to go back to her curly mop days, but any scene with Brundage has been fun this year. My favourite, leading a squad of basketball players down the hall towards the gym for their first game of the year. It's a familiar shot, but made all the better by the three-foot nothing Brundage doing the leading.

They'll hand out the best actor to somebody other than Kiefer Sutherland this year (24 didn't make it to the air). They could do a LOT worse than calling on Matt Dallas or Jackson Brundage.

And probably will do worse.

TV: Sprite Sprung a Leak

Sprite is running a phone-in vote for the best dunk of the past NBA season. It's a cheap, possibly money-making embarrassment of a commercial that is a blight on the eyes every time it plays.

First, let's cut to the chase. The picked dunks aren't even in the ball park of the best dunks of last year. Secondly, each little replay is without a key component, sound (don't have to pay the original announcers royalties?). Third, there's no setup. Fourth, it plays in a sliver of the screen that looks small EVEN on BIG TVs. Lastly, the whole thing is just a come-on to send 50 cents or a buck or whatever to Sprite. Why ANYBODY would reward the poor production values of this commercial spot with their hard-earned cash only proves the old saw.

There is a sucker born every minute.

Sprite should be ashamed. And so should the NBA for participating and playing the spots.

SPORTS: Voices Fading

In my lifetime, I have been treated to the sounds of Foster Hewitt, Bill Hewitt and Bob Cole as the signature play by play voice of CBC Hockey Night in Canada (Toronto games). That's more than 50 years of hearing "He shoots, he scores!" sending shivers down my spine. Foster's nasally version gave way to his son Billy's more cultured tone and then to the Newfie accent brought across the water by Cole. I must fess up. I'm half Newfie myself. So, appreciation for Cole's talents were in the blood, so to speak.

Along with the signature voice of the beloved Montreal Canadiens, Danny Gallivan, four men have been 'Hockey' to me. I can still close my eyes, recall pictures and hear their voices. Given I'm in my second half-century on this planet, it amazes me that the four have combined to be there through all of the first half-century. I know Vin Scully carries a similar cachet, but I'm Canadian and hockey's simply more important.

Cole's call last night between Detroit and Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup lid-lifter was his best performance in quite some time. I enjoyed it to the point where I kept it on the big screen, with the sound on, over the NBA Semi-Final between Detroit and Boston, shunted off onto the soundless smaller TV. When Cole is on, and colour man Greg Millen is on his game, the result is a treat.

Sadly, it's not been a treat most of the playoff season. And it isn't Millen's fault.

Cole's been a national game-caller all the way back to the 1972 Summit Series with the Soviets. He's been on the national TV broadcast longer than the Hewitt's did TV, combined. He doesn't have to apologize to anybody for occasionally forgetting who's on the powerplay or what player wears what number or even the score. But he's done that this year. Retirement beckons. I'd say that the Hockey Hall of Fame calls too, but the Hall made THAT call more than a decade ago.

I hope he keeps up the good work from game one. The shorter the series, the better for him, as he obviously took advantage of the long layoff leading up to the Cup finals. No such layoffs, but no cross-country trips either, as the Red Wings and Penguins do battle over the next week (or two).

When Cole DOES decide he's had enough of the regular grind, the national network does have a superb replacement available in Jim Hughson, who has shone this playoff season. He's been spectacularly good, and any idea that he WON'T be Cole's successor is just poppycock. He even made me like analyst Craig Simpson, who I usually find bland to the point of tuning out. Pairing Hughson and Millen will be a treat next year.

The second national pair will be a little problematic with Hughson graduating. Chris Culbertson was outstanding for TSN this year, but the ex-CBCer left on unpleasant terms and it would be hard to see him going back. His ability to harness analyst Glenn Healy AND do informative play-by-play is exemplary. TSN's other big hockey broadcaster Gord Miller, might be too much of a creation of the combination of he and analyst Pierre McGuire. I like both, the understated Miller and the bubbly McGuire, but they might be a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. None of the junior hockey guys from Sportsnet have any right to be talking about a CBC gig.

I think the graduate to the main network's late-night half of the double-header is Ottawa caller Dean Brown. The question is whether he'd see the offer as a promotion, since he already calls Senator games on the CBC. Giving that up to travel to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver on a weekly basis might not seem the career boost to him, that it appears to me. But he's the guy I'd like to listen to after Hughson finishes with the Leafs on Saturday night. It wouldn't be terrible if Brown does the early game and west coast living Hughson the nightcap either.

And when the national network does a triple-header (which seems monthly these days), that's when you call the well-rested Cole out of Newfoundland retirement and let him get the juices going. If Buffalo isn't playing that night, you pull Harry Neale away from his hometown Sabres and have an auditory reunion with as good as our national game's ever seen and heard from.

We're ready for Bob Cole's retirement in this country. I hope he rests easily with than knowledge.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SPORTS: Ash vs Ricciardi, The Draft-Off

When Gord Ash took over as GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, the club was not that far removed from winning back to back world championships. A tough standard to meet, but try he did. After seven years of trying ... and failing to live up to that ideal, he was replaced by Oakland front officer J.P. Ricciardi. He's now had seven years at the helm, so it seems fair to take a look at how the basic building block of a major league team, the draft, was handled by each guy.

First, let me point out that I'm just looking at the first four rounds. Later draft picks that pan out, like Jesse Litsch, pitching so well against KC today, are much more luck than not. Elsewise, they would have been drafted earlier. So kudos go to the scout that pushed for drafting Litsch, less so to Ricciardi for finally listening to him. Is that fair? I think it is, but I thought I'd get the point out front to begin with.


Ash took Roy Halladay 17th overall in 1995. He followed up by grabbing another border-line major-leaguer in Craig Wilson in the second round. Third and fourth rounders Jeff Maloney and Mike Whitlock respectively never panned out. Ash basically did as well as he could possibly have done in drafting Halladay, but missed out on Carlos Beltran, Brett Tomko and third-rounders like Ryan Dempster, Bronson Arroyo, JJ Putz and Russ Ortiz in drafting Wilson.

Ricciardi's first draft in 2002 saw him nab Russ Adams 14th overall. Dave Bush came in the second round and Adam Peterson in the fourth round. All three are AAAA prospects it seems, having gotten some major league exposure. Third rounder Justin Marneau was a never-was. The litany of coulda-been Jays reads like a who's who of hot talent. First-rounders after Adams included Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, Royce Ring, James Loney, Joe Blanton, Robinson Cano, Jeff Francouer, and Mark Teahen. After Bush in the second round, we have Jon Lester, Jonathon Broxton, Jesse Crain, Brian McCann and fourth-rounder Delwyn Young.

First round goes to Ash.


The sophomore jinx hit Ash hard in 1996. THREE first round picks in 1996 led to drafting Billy Koch fourth, Joey Lawrence 16th and Peter Tucci 31st. Brent Abernathy was a ninth pick in the second round while the third round saw the Jays nab Yan Lachappelle fourth and Clayton Andrews ninth. Ryan Stromsberg was a whiff at fourth in the fourth. The missed future big leaguers included first-rounders Mark Kotsay, Eric Chavez, Dee Brown, Eric Milton, Scott Linebrink, Gil Meche and Jason Marquis. Jacque Jones went too early in the second for drafting, but after came Jimmy Rollins, Eric Muson, Scott Schoenweiss, AJ Hinch, Shawn Chacon, Alex Cora and Nick Johnson. Koch's early flameout affects this draft grade. Had he maintained his rookie year credentials, he would have been on a par with all but Rollins. But he didn't. And Abernathy had a similarly quick rise and fall.

2003 was Ricciardi's best draft. He got Aaron Hill 14th in the first round, Josh Banks 13th in the second round and Shaun Marcum 13th in the third round. Kurt Isenberg, the 13th pick in the fourth round, broke a decent streak. Both Hill and Marcum are contributing Blue Jays, two of the four drafted by Ricciardi to be able to say so. Banks was a near miss. However, in lauding Ricciardi here, let's take a look at the coulda-been list. First rounders Chad Cordero, Chad Billingsley, Daric Barton, Matt Murton, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adam Jones each have had moments of Hill-like success. Second-rounder Andre Ethier would have been a better pick than Banks. And you know, fourth-rounders Jon Papelbon and Michael Bourn might have looked good in Blue Jay blue (or black or whatever horrid color combo the present-day regime thinks is 'cool').

Second round goes to Ricciardi, because Koch flamed out after being traded for Eric Hinske who flamed out before being traded for ... cash.


Ash was a draft pick short in 1997, making do with Vernon Wells as the fifth overall pick and then failures Billy Brown and Woody Heath as the fifth picks in the third and fourth rounds respectively. It was a lousy overall draft. Ash missed out on Chase Utley, who went early in the second round. Third rounders he could have grabbed included Jeremy Affeldt and Scott Downs (who ended up in T.O. anyway). Fourth-rounders who made it big, relatively speaking, included Eric Byrnes, Xavier Nady and the best of that bunch, Chone Figgins. Wells is a pretty decent return from what was a motley group of talent.

It was the misses that make Ricciardi's potentially decent draft in 2004 look suspect. He got David Purcey 16th and Zach Jackson 32nd in the first round, missing Philip Hughes, Josh Fields and Taylor Tankersley. Second rounder Curtis Thigpen would make the draft IF he ends up being a major-league catcher and not a back-up first baseman, as has been surmised. On the other hand, the Jays COULD have had Dustin Pedroia, Hunter Pence or Kirt Suzuki with that pick. Adam Lind at 12 in the third round MIGHT work out well for somebody else, since the Jays outfield of the future doesn't include him. Danny Hill four picks later would have been better spent on fourth-rounder Casey Janssen, who's career flared last year, but might be over to arm surgery this year.

With one Wells being worth two to five backups, Ash wins this round. Third round to Ash.


Ash's 1998 draft was basically a one and done affair. He grabbed Felipe Lopez eighth in the first round, waiting until Ryan Bundy went eighth in the fourth round to end a desultory top part of the draft. Lopez looked like a bright light, but like Billy Koch before him, didn't pan out in the long run. Better the Jays could have taken first-rounders Carlos Pena, Jeff Weaver, Brad Lidge, CC Sabathia, future Jay Brad Wilkerson, Aaron Rowand and Mark Prior, or second-rounders Adam Dunn and Brandon Inge, or third-rounders Barry Zito, Mike Maroth or Josh Fogg.

Ricciardi ALSO had a short 2005 draft at the top. Picking sixth, the current GM drafted Ricky Romero in the first round, Brian Pettway in the third and Ryan Patterson in the fourth. None is a major leaguer, although Romero has bullpen potential it seems ... if he can stay healthy. The missed first rounders to draft Romero included Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Jay Bruce and Cody Rasmus. I discussed the why's of missing out on Tulowitzki earlier. The rest of the missed choices have no such 'excuse.'

Lopez might not have reached his potential, but he still bests Romero. The misses seem to even out. So this round goes to Ash.


Alex Rios, the 19th pick in the 1999 draft makes Ash's round of picks a better-than-average effort. Mike Snyder failed for a second rounder and Matt Ford only had a cup of coffee coming in the third round. Brian Cardwell was a fourth-round whiff. The coulda-beens included first rounder Brian Roberts and second-rounder Carl Crawford, who went before Snyder. Others missed included third-rounders Justin Morneau, Willie Bloomqvist, Jon Rauch and Hank Blalock. Fourth-rounder Kevin Mench DID find his way to Toronto.

Oddly enough Ricciardi's draft in 2006 has an eerie look to it. Travis Snider, the talented 14th pick, looks to be a very Rios-like hitter and might end up bookending Vernon Wells with Rios at the end of next season. He WAS on a pace to do just that, but has flopped badly this year. Too early to tell. But the key to evaluating Snider versus Rios is the fact he's nowhere near the fielder that Rios is. To this point, Ian Kennedy seems to be the main first-round miss. The Jays didn't have picks for the next two rounds, due to signing free agents (how'd that work out for Toronto?). Fourth-rounder Brandon Magee is a LOOONG way away from the big leagues at this point.

With Snider still a 'potential' rather than a sure thing, this round has to go to Ash.


With Ash forced to draft with signability rather than ability as the key feature, he was hamstrung. Similarly, it's too early to evaluate the last two drafts for Ricciardi. So here's some facts on Ash's drafts. In 2000, Ash drafted Miguel Negron 18th in a pure money move. He missed out on Boof Bonser, Scott Thorman and Aaron Heilman. He did get Dustin McGowan 33rd overall as a sandwich pick. Pete Bauer and Dominic Rich didn't work out as second rounders, nor Morrow Davis in the third and Raul Tablado in the fourth. Missed second rounders included Bobby Hill, Xavier Nady (again!), Lance Niekro, Manny Delcarmen and future Jay Brian Tallet. This BIG misses were third-rounder Grady Sizemore and fourth-rounder David Dejesus. That fourth round also featured Cliff Lee, Yadier Molina, Koyie Hill and Laynce Nix.

Ash's last draft in 2001 helped the Jays as much as all but one of Ricciardi's drafts. Gabe Gross went 15th in the first round and Brandon League in the same spot in the second round. AAAA prospect Tyrell Godwin was the third-rounder and never-was Chris Sheffield went in the fourth round. The slim pickings COULD have included Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Heilman (again!), future Jay failure John-Ford Griffin and Noah Lowry. After that, not much. Danny Haren (the star of the lot) and Neil Cotts were there in the second round, Jerry Hairston in the third round and Kyle Davies in the fourth round. You could argue that Gross and League are no worse than fourth and fifth of the available players. And League still attracts interest.

Riccardi's 2007 draft is stil awaiting analysis. There's evidence that Ricky Porcello and Andrew Brackman might have been better first round picks than Kevin Ahrens or J.P. Arencibia.


Throwing out Ash's final two years because of financial constraints made by the Belgian Beer Barons isn't all that fair. In the five years that we did evaluate, it sure seems Ash did better. When Ash (and to be fair, his staff) connected, it was for All-Star level players. To date, all Ricciardi (and to be fair, his staff) has to show for drafts are Aaron Hill, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch (ruled out of consideration earlier) and some 25th-man type of players.

It's not that difficult to come to an inescapable conclusion. Ash was the better drafter of the two GM's, yet wasn't good enough to keep his job.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

SPORTS: Boys and Their Toys

I should be trying to catch up here in the next few days. I'm supposed to be getting a post a day done, but time isn't as permissive as I'd like. But there should be a lot of verbiage spewing over the next few days. You've been warned.

A couple of days ago, I went on about how good the CBC and Leaf TV guys were at broadcasting hockey. And how the Dallas Stars were emblematic of bad hockey broadcasting, while not being the only culprits. Later that same night, the NBA Semi-Finals kicked off with ESPN doing the Celtics-Pistons game. I don't know who the director was for the show, but somebody, PLEASE, Stop him!

His new toy isn't all that new. It's the follow-the-action camera. And it has NO BLEEPIN' PLACE in an NBA game. Developed for races, like an Olympic 100m final, the concept works perfectly fine as an after-the-fact analysis viewing angle. It eliminates the distortion brought on by viewing from an angle, a surging wave of competition as it advances down the straight. It is GREAT for that purpose. Cannot recommend it more highly as the first replay angle to be shown in these circumstances.

Then, the camera gets given to MORONS like the director of the game Tuesday night. He uses the camera on a cable to show LIVE ACTION. It's not the first time I've seen it in basketball and would that it be, that it would be the last time I did so. It is the most worthless use of technology since the glowing puck in hockey. Just because you CAN do something, isn't any reason to actually do it. I've said it before, common sense and being in the seat at home to watch other idiots fail similarly are the best thing that could happen to a director.

The best seats in the house are at midcourt, centre ice and the 50-yard line. Centrally located. That hasn't changed since the Romans were watching lions have their dinner. WHY, WHY, WHY would any director think you should move away from that view for regular action? I've seen end-zone views from red-zone football plays and powerplay situations. A little distorting, but it's going to be the stable view for the next few seconds. Who in their right bleepin' mind thinks running along the side of a basketball court watching men dribble is anything other than nauseating?

Tuesday night, I flipped the game to the small TV and watched some season 3 Penn and Teller BS shows on the main TV. Tonight, I'm here at the keyboard rather than watching the game. Should tell you something.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

MISC: New Look

Last thing before I hit the hay for the morning. Blogger's been annoying me to 'upgrade' my templates for the site. Anything to make the nuisance disappear.

So, I updated and took the fourth alternative, third from the left. Might be a little more pleasing to the eye and a little easier to find things (now on the right, which I hate). But so it goes.

Good night, morning or whatever.

SPORTS: The Bells Ring Louder

The Toronto Blue Jays are back to .500. A winning streak should be doing wonders for the job security of manager John Gibbons, president Paul Godfrey and GM JP Ricciardi. But it hasn't.

Toronto Star columnist Richard Griffin has been detailing Ricciardi's failings in ever-greater detail. He's virtually turned into the baseball version of Dave Feschuk, the perpetually depressed Star sports scribe. He'd be skating on thin ice if the thin ice wasn't actually over under Ricciardi's feet.

Seven years, Griffin points out, has resulted in four Blue Jay draft choices wearing Blue Jay togs currently. None is a star or even close to the best on the team. Guys the former GM Gord Ash drafted in HIS seven years (some of which were under the Belgian Beer Brewers' miserly rule) are still there and leading the team. A lot more than four. One of them, Roy Halladay, is so fancied by US President George W. Bush, that he was named as one of two players the outgoing prez would use to start a new baseball team. The other was Chase Utley, who Ash passed over to draft Vernon Wells. It was a whiff, but not a horrible one.

Compare that with Ricciardi missing out on Troy Tulowitzki to draft Ricky Romero, who's been mainly damaged for the last two years. Might become a major-league reliever one day. Of course, the REASON Ricciardi whiffed on Tulowitzki is because he already had drafted two shortstops in Russ Adams and Aaron Hill, neither of whom plays shortstop these days. And Adams is in the minors with Romero anyway.

Griffin does a great job of highlighting how Ricciardi drafted quick-promotion low-upside (aka mediocre) college talent and then spent like a lottery-winner when Uncle Ted opened up the wallet. He's left the farm system in tatters. And there's not a lot of talent that's catching OTHER people's eyes. Sure, he TELLS Mike Wilner and others that the farm system is in great shape with talent coming. But the emperor has no clothes and nothing truthful to show for his seven-year itch of a hitch.

It's time to scratch that itch and make the New Englander an ex-GM.

BOOKS: Mo' Dr. Joe ... About Healthier French Fries

Thick french fries are healthier than thin french fries, aka shoestrings.

Note, I didn't say thick french fries are healthy, otherwise I'd be the healthiest person you will ever read about. No, there's less acrylamide in thick french fries than in shoestrings. How do I know that? Dr. Joe, aka Dr. Joe Schwarcz, said that in a recent book called, Dr. Joe & What You Didn't Know. The operating sub-title is: 177 Fascinating Questions and Answers about the Chemistry of Everyday Life.

By the way, Dr. Joe does actually explain how to make cooking french fries as healthy as possible.

I am a big admirer of Joe Schwarcz. I first discovered him years ago on the Discovery Channel's eonymous show that featured a daily look at the scientific world. He managed to break chemistry and bio-chemistry down into easy to digest gulps of infotainment. One of his earliest works, Radar, Hula Hoops and Playful Pigs, proved to me that he has the ability to turn that intellectual whimsy into solid writing too. I cannot recommend the book more highly.

So, when it finally came time to start perusing What You Didn't Know in the reading room, I ended up over-staying the reasons for the visit on more than one occasion. The book is the perfect bathroom reader, as each of the 177 facts gets somewhere between a half-page and a couple of pages of exposition. There's occasionally some tangential writing, but it's a solid science/history lesson in a comfortable portion size.

I admit, sometimes I bite off more than I can chew of heavyweight science. Like a gazillion others, I have Stephen Hawking's books on my bookshelf (A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell), each with a chapter or two read. I actually got about halfway through Charles Sheffield's Borderlands of Science. My ambitions exceeded my intellectual grasp. But Schwarcz's books invite the reader in. There's a whole chemistry course in each one, replete with interesting experiments to try (and those to stay away from).

His latest is An Apple A Day. Given my current zeal for eating an apple a day, I am anxious to get the book during my birthday reading week two months from now. And truth be told, I'm REALLY worried he's going to expose the idea as completely and utterly wrong!

But at least I'll know.

SPORTS: Kudos to Leaf TV Camera People

Okay, okay, I've been gone a week. No vacation, just a stern boss with a hankering to get the software he's paid for. So, it was nose to the grind wheel time, 'cept for eating, some sleeping and watching sports.

It's struck me that I am completely and utterly spoiled. While I don't much care for Toronto Maple Leaf hockey, the fact is that the show is done as well as it can be done. Especially the camera work by the crew at Air Canada Place (and yes, I did originally write Maple Leaf Gardens). The folks at the Bell Centre in Montreal are really quite decent too.

The Dallas Stars' work detail? Not so much.

Part of the problem in Dallas, which it shares with Detroit, is the main camera placement. It's too low. Combined with the gentle slope of the stands at the Dallas arena, action along the near boards is a guessing game. And the crews there simply don't provide reverse-angle views quickly enough. It's like sitting in the stands cursing the louts in front of you. Technology is SUPPOSED to be better! Pittsburgh, on the other hand, sends the cameras to the rafters and it takes a fine hand to follow the action with a zoom view. And sometimes, that camera person isn't up for the job.

Taking any picture, moving or still, when shooting action is a lesson in how well the lensman knows the sport. You don't follow the action, you lead it. Led the action flow INTO your frame. That's easier to do in a race, for example. You have a pretty good idea where the action is leading to. Hockey, with its ability to pivot on a dime and flow in any other direction, takes a knowledgeable and sure-handed ace with the camera. It's obvious that we have a large selection of such good cameramen here in Toronto, that their absence 'on the road' is telling.

Next time you take in a Leaf game on TV (sure, I know, a longshot), take a minute to appreciate the pictures you are watching. The hockey might be lousy, but it's brought to you in astonishing detail!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MOVIES: Iron Man Soars

I was looking forward to three movies this spring. Jumper managed to make unwatchable a thoroughly readable series of books (well two thirds of the Jumper series is, the movie-inspired third one is bad). 10,000 BC managed to screw up Mastadons and Sabre-toothed Tigers fer gawdsakes! Which left me worried immensely about Iron Man, the third of my anticipated movies.

Some early reviews were so-so. The NON-comic book geek reviewers were predicting big opening week box office, without much multiple viewing or appeal to the general public, which is what drives these mega-hits these days.

Well, (the raspberry sound) to them! Iron Man is a certified hit.

It's a good movie with very little to complain about. Yet, you know I will, so bear with me.

What's right about this movie is its ability to swipe the better parts out of action movies from the past and meld them into a delightful melange of pretty cliches. Let's start with the obvious, it's The Transformers movie without the mistakes of Michael Bay's directorial effort from last year. Big robots clanging off each other in a fight to the rust-bucket, tend to look alike. So, don't spend a lot of time doing it. And the Iron Man-Big Baddie fight IS mercifully short in duration. There's no problem telling the good guy and bad guy apart and that's something to be thankful for too. (Yes, I KNOW they're not ROBOTS in Iron Man).

The shot from the commercial for the movie where Iron Man takes out a tank, walking into the camera while the world explodes behind him is standard footage. Still brought a murmur of contentment from the crowd I saw the movie with.

But the real secret to Iron Man's success is moving away from the source material and suffusing the workaholic/alcoholic Tony Stark with a healthy dose of Spider-Man humour and humanity. To check my recollections, I went back and read the first three years' worth of Iron Man comics from Tales of Suspense, published 1963-1965. Not so many jokes. Stan Lee, the originator of both characters, wrote them differently (SHOCK!!!!). Tony Stark, back then, was just plain driven to invent. He didn't interact all that well, although he did pine for Pepper Potts. All super-heroes had to pine for SOMEONE afterall! He just never did anything more than do the poor-me thing for a panel and then get back to inventing.

Nope, giving Tony Stark a sourpuss rich playboy demeanour would have killed this movie. Instead, Robert Downey Jr. turned Tony Stark into Peter Parker without the radioactive spider acquaintance and money problems. It's an entertaining fit. Between visits to the clink and rehab clinic, Downey Jr. continues to produce entertaining performance after performance. He's money in the bank.

So, we have action and humour, good supporting turns by Jeff Bridges as scene-munching Obidiah Stane (a baaaaad man) and Terrence Howard (James Rhodes) and okay work from Gwyneth Paltrow and director Jon Favreau, who play future couple Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan.
I understand the latter three all had scenes left on the cutting room floor, in order to get down to the roughly two-hour running time and to focus in on Downey Jr.

There's apparently a three-movie deal out there, so one of the two remaining movies will focus in on Howard's Rhodes, who gets to tug on the armour and become War Machine. I'm all right with that. The third movie allegedly deals with The Mandarin. I hope I'm wrong about that. The better movement would be to have Rhodes/War Machine do something with Stark against either the Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man, both power-suited adversaries from Cold War Communist countries. My guess, it will be Titanium Man with an Arab at the controls. The seeds are certainly there from the first movie. If they do a take-off on the third-year story from the comic book, then Rhodes can arrive in time to save an Iron Man, who's down and out, after battling Titanium Man before a world-wide audience. The third movie would then be a rehash of the Armour Wars, wherein Stark tries to get back all the various armour suits that are out there and based on his technology. I could live with that.

Sooooo, what are the nits? Stane dunkirks Stark at home, obviously hours after Potts found out Stane is a REAAAAAL BAAAAAD guy. She did go off with a SHIELD agent upon leaving Stane, but she couldn't make ONE phone call to alert Stark to be on the lookout for Stane? Then, there's Stane's expertise in handling a power suit first time out. Just not believable. And the explosion going straight up, rather than up AND out, beggars physics. I think replacing Jeeves with a mechanical robot was a mistake. After you see the movie, imagine a stoic Jeeves with a fire extinguisher at the ready and being told no. No. NO! Then doing it. 'Sorry, sir!" he would add.

And lastly, the added scene after the credits was nice. BUT torturing us with TEN minutes of credits to get to it was just cruel and unusual. Surely, there had to be a better compromise. I think about ten of the people who watched it with me, knew to stay, even when every nerve and fibre in my being was yelling, ENOUGH! LET ME OUT OF HERE!

Hoped you liked it as much as me.

SPORTS: Hockey Rules

I have to admit, I think the NHL has come pretty close to having the ideal set of rules. I know various people are having fits trying to turn goaltenders back into goalies, rather than passable imitations of the Berlin Wall. But generally, I think I like where the game is at. But like anything else, there might be a tweak or two that I DO like.

Watching Mike Modano succeed tonight in the face-off circle reminded me of how lop-sided face-offs were the last time Rod Brind'Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes were in the playoffs. Like Modano, Brind'Amour tended to dominate at home and get dominated on the road. Seems it's a BIG advantage to be able to put your stick down second, an advantage afforded the home team. Soooo, how 'bout this to generate some offence? Make it the Offensive team's right to go in second all the time, except for face-offs at centre ice. For those, and those alone, home team gets second rights.

I'd also like to see players who shove attacking players over the blueline, JUST as one of the attacking team's players is taking the puck across the line into the defensive zone should get a Delay of Game penalty. Or at least interference. It stops the game, just as assuredly as shooting the puck into the stands does. What's the difference?

Lastly, and this isn't so much a rule change as a way to get more out of the regular season. I'm all for the change to three point games, thus ending the lunacy of claiming Paul Maurice's Leafs were a winning club during his tenure, when they missed the playoffs the last two season. It's phony stats. Make a regulation-time win worth three points, an overtime win two points, an overtime loss one point and no points for losing in regulation time. Sure, it invalidates the old record book, since some team is going to get 170 points at least. But some of us can actually divide by 1.5 and see how the new totals rank against the old totals. But that's just part one of my "Make it MEANINGFUL" campaign.

After using points to determine the playoff contestants for each conference, throw out ALL games against non-playoff teams and rank the conferences by what percentage of points each team got against playoff teams against what they could have got.

Let's do some math. (ooops, lost three-quarters of you right there. Thanks for sticking by me you smart people).

Detroit won the President's Trophy this year, getting more than their fair share of points against some weak sisters in Chicago and St. Louis. It would be wise to note that this is cyclical and both teams were better than last year, and they will be better yet again next year. But for this year, not so good. Once you take away the points Detroit gained against them, you might find that Detroit ended up with something in the order of 74.3 per cent. (these numbers are all figments of my imagination). Now take San Jose, which had its own weak sister in Los Angeles. As it turns out, San Jose might actually have a better percentage against actual playoff teams, say 75.8 per cent. This might very well have led to a flip-flopping of seeds in the West. Would San Jose have fared better playing Nashville and then Colorado, rather than Calgary and then Dallas? I think you can make a case for it.

Okay, so this sounds like sour grapes from a San Jose fan. I'm not, although I DID predict better things for them in pools. No, the allure of this feature is the impact it makes on the end of the season.

How many times in the last few years have we seen Detroit stage organized rest time for its veterans? With first clinched, the Red Wings have done the smart thing and rested a LOT of their veterans for a game or two down the stretch. Why not? These games have no effect on THEIR placement. Granted, it more or less makes a mockery of those games (moreso that Detroit still wins a lot of them). But if winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize, no one can criticize the Wings for their plans.

BUT, if the last few games are against playoff teams, then Detroit might very well not have the luxury of resting players against fellow contenders. Three or four body-reduced losses might, in fact, really cost Detroit a seeding spot. Sure, the team can still rest it's old guys against the likes of L.A., Chicago and St. Louis, but all that does is make those games more competitive. They'll ice their best and play as well as they can against Anaheim and San Jose down the stretch, which doesn't happen under the current system.

I repeat, we HAVE to go to the three-point a win system to make the percentage seeding plan work. But it WILL help give the regular season meaning, and set up the playoff to have truer seeds based on performance against playoff calibre teams, rather than lucking into a weak division in any given year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

SPORTS: A Little Blue Jays Gallows Humour

The sound you hear in the background is the bell that tolls the end of JP Ricciardi's career as Toronto Blue Jay GM. He'll take John Gibbons with him (or before him) and I can't really see how Paul Godfrey escapes the noose either. Of the three, the only one I'm sad to see go is Gibbons. And HE'S the one I've received three emails (all complaining) about in the last month.

First, Gibbons has actually done more this year than I thought he was capable of. He's pressured opponents more than a little bit (well, more than last year) and I think he's done an okay job of NOT sitting on his hands while the inmates overrun the asylum. Granted, his career longevity is down to days, not months, but he's going down trying to play HIS brand of baseball. Reminds me a lot of Paul Maurice. 'Cept Gibby doesn't get to the end of another non-playoff year.

I should be chortling with glee at the latest Ricciardi comic opera. Two shortstops go down with injury, so he acquires two outfielders. And let me point out, one of the players designated for assignment down in Syracuse was none other than last year's starting shortstop, Sergio Santos. That makes it a three for two trade. Heads are still shaking.

'Cept mine. You see, I actually like the Wilkerson and Mench gambles. I was a fan of Brad Wilkerson and even drafted him on my Roto team two years ago. Now, time and injuries have diminished Wilkerson to the point where I'm not so stupid as to draft him, but giving him a two-week trial while waiting out the return of a shortstop or two isn't the stupidest gamble Ricciardi's ever took. (insert one of ..... I'm too tired to type out the WHOLE list). And Kevin Mench is a platoon player who plays the short platoon against lefties. Given the Blue Jays roster of last year, Mench would have no utility. But this year's Jays lists a little starboard and Mench can pair with Stairs and Stewart to mix and match better.

Then Vernon Wells gets hurt, and suddenly they both have to play a lot. Instead of a look-see and cut your losses approach if they don't pan out, now Ricciardi is tied to both of them working out. So far, it's a bad gamble. And, of course the Jays had to reach out for a couple of downside former prime time players. They've got Adam Lind all twisted into a knot of unproductivity. Baseball is all about the three C's, Capability, Concentration and Confidence. Most big leaguers have a surprisingly similar amount of capability. What sets the stars apart is often the latter two C's. In Lind's case, Confidence is waning and with it goes concentration. He's close to being useless for the Jays.

Alright, so Lind needs some AAA mashing to get the confidence up and be back in T.O. in time for June. The Jays will just call up ...

Oh, that's right. NOBODY! Wunderkind Travis Snider's at least a year and a half away. Any thoughts he'd do a Griffey and be with the Jays before being old enough to vote is a pipedream. And we've already talked about the psych bag job they are doing on Lind. So who's left? The next best outfielder in the organization is, wait for it, (the sounds of hysterical laughter well up in the background), Russ Adams. He's hitting for a better bad average than Buck Coats.

THIS is the organization that Ricciardi's built. ONE offensive prospect in Snider. Two if you count the flagging Lind. Seven years of this man's command, achieving mediocre results at best, using mostly components put in place by Gord Ash, the oft-putdown predecessor. There are some pitchers in the pipeline, none with Star! written all over their bio's.

But he talks a good game. Not for much longer. Heh, heh, heh.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

SPORTS: Sportsmanship! And I've Got the Proof

I wrote about act of sportsmanship displayed in a university girls' softball game last week. The story brought tears to my eyes when I first read it. Turns out ESPN also heard about the story AND has video of the incredible act of sportsmanship.

Take six minutes out of your life when you feel really p.o.'d at the world, thinking it's full of the worst kind of slimy humanity you thought you'd ever come across. Then watch this video (who knows how long it will be there, but at least I've tried).

Home Run Hitter finishes her trip around the bases.

Turns out, it's available on YouTube also.

The parents, teachers and coaches of Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace should be proud of themselves for whatever part they played in raising two such amazing women. And to Sara Tucholsky, you have lots to be proud of too.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

SPORTS: Changing Habs

I'm still in mourning over the demise (one round too early) of my beloved Montreal Canadiens. The regular season Eastern Conference champs didn't exactly have my confidence that they'd end the incredibly long Stanley Cup drought (15 years and counting), but I see the 25th title coming to the team in the not too long-distant future.

Although the required ingredients won't be easy to acquire, I think the Habs have a really short shopping list.

For starters, the club needs a big, tough forward willing to live in front of the net. I thought they had the guy in Mike Ryder. But apparently his feelings bruised easily and when last year's arbitration process went sour, his game left town a year early. He's gone, won't be missed, and takes a potential solution with him. I really believe that had Brenden Morrow worn a Montreal sweater this year, Montreal would have won it all. Heck, even a Milan Lucic would have made it close.

Can Max Pacioritty, the college wunderkind, be Montreal's big nasty crease-crasher? It takes a bit of time to grow into that role (Lucic notwithstanding). But he's got promise. He's the only Montreal property that hints at playing the role well. So, the Habs will have to look elsewhere.

Nobody stands out as available and affordable. Power forwards are just too valuable. But there ARE possibilities open to imagination. Philly's Jeff Carter has the makings of a difficult player to tangle with, but would be prohibitively expensive. Brendan Shanahan might decide New York's shot its bolt and that the Canadiens are a better fit for Stanley Cup dreams. He'd add a somewhat health-risky benefit as another leader in the room. Would Carolina part with Erik Cole? He's a younger version of Shanahan. Sliding down the reliable health scale, we would find Columbus' Fredrik Modin. Betcha the Habs could get him for Mikhail Grabovski straight up. And Grabovski has to get out of Montreal if he wants to play NHL hockey. Money and opportunity could attract the likes of Ruslan Fedotenko, Ladislav Nagy or even Ryan Malone, but I doubt it.

Okay, so we've added Modin and Pacioritty to the line-up for next year. The club needs to resign Alexei Kovalev (Please, if there is ANY chance to get his name on a one-year contract, do it) and Andrei Kostitsyn. While neither is guaranteed, both should be back. Add in Kostitsyn's brother Sergei, Saku Koivu, Thomas Plekanec and Christopher Higgins, you have the makings of two scoring lines, plus most of a third line. Guillaume Latendresse will fill out that third line. The Kostopoulos-Begin-Smolinski line will be broken up unless Brian Smolinski accepts less money. Glen Metropolit is a free agent in Boston and I would covet him. But some plugger will make that line go.

So, there's your forward set for next year. On defence, the Habs have to re-sign the hockey equivalent of Tim Wakefield, Mark Streit. He simply is too valuable as a capable defender who powers the power-play AND can take a turn at the forward spot. In fact, he lets the club go with 12 forwards and seven defencemen nightly, which is a solid way to spread out minutes over a long season. He's not a six-million dollar man, but he's worth at least half of that.

Montreal will have serious cap room, even after offering raises to Kovalev, Kostitsyn and Streit. The bulk of that cash should go to getting a stud defenceman. This might be the right time for Montreal to look at defenders with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. They'll also be finishing high enough in the standings that a cost in first-round picks for a restricted free agent might not be prohibitive at all. In fact, the guy I like most, falls into that category, Shea Weber of Nashville.

Weber is the most physical of the restricted free agents and also has an offensive game. He's young and plays for a team that just doesn't have the financial wherewithal to hand seven million plus to a guy who ISN'T their best player, or even best defenceman (Dam Hamhuis). So, the Predators might just let Montreal carry off the defenceman for money and picks.

Barring that, the Canadiens should be in the hunt for Wade Redden. He's fallen far, but I think it's possible he could get back up. I wouldn't touch Brian Campbell, even though I think he's a durable fellow. He just wouldn't earn out, owing to the presence of Streit and Andrei Markov to run the powerplay. His ability to run the powerplay is what doubles his salary (and worth) to other teams.

Then there is the trade route. Would Florida seriously think of trading Jay Bouwmeester? Start with Markov, throw in Higgins, some of those Hamilton Bulldog prospects chomping at the bit and some draft picks. Sign Nagy or Fedotenko to replace Higgins and the job's done. Don't think any other young, brutish defenceman with talent is available, although I would phone Mike Gillis out in Vancouver and inquire about often-hurt Mattias Ohlund. That's some bargain-hunting that might pay off. And then there's Anaheim, who must surely realize that four alpha defencemen is one or two too many.

Okay, what to do about goaltending. I LIKE Jaroslav Halak. Problem is that he likes himself too. He just doesn't see himself as Carey Price's caddy. Ergo, you can count on him to bail as a free agent or get himself signed and traded. Better to let him go. A couple of Johan's appeal to me as the kind of veteran backup/mentor that might look good in bleu blanc et rouge. Hedberg's time is done in Atlanta and that makes him the choice over Dallas' Holmqvist, who the Stars probably need to resign. The guy I'd LIKE to see in Montreal is Chris Mason, the suddenly redundant former starter in Nashville.

As you can see, a few re-signings and some brute force additions will let this edition of the Montreal Canadiens age and improve into a championship calibre squad.


Using a hammer to swat a fly makes for a very inefficient, but occasionally satisfying, flyswatter. I wish people who made hammers wouldn't mention its occasional effectiveness as a flyswatter.

The software analogy comes from the security sector. I WISH Grisoft had been satisfied to maintain AVG as an effective Anti-Virus, just as I wanted ZoneAlarm's firewall to remain pure and AdAware strictly a detector, after the fact, of scumware. Instead of staying in their niche and perfecting it, the folks behind these products have decided to branch out.

In the latter two cases, it's meant removing them from my recommended list. ZoneAlarm still sort of floats there, but that's from a lack of alternatives, rather than a true endorsement of the product.

Which brings me to the latest iteration of AVG. Still recommended. But I wish Grisoft had decided not to interfere with my web-browsing and stuck to detecting when evil files try to make my life difficult. Instead, it's AVG that had to be tamed down a bit.

I warned a few months ago that version 8 of AVG was going to replace 7.5. There was a brief bout of fear that there wouldn't be a free version of 8, but that's not proven to be the case. And certainly the scare tactics used to warn of the impending change were confusing. But here I am, now running 8.01 with success. Maybe not happiness, but success.

First, there are some changes to AVG. It might have been ugly, but it was easy to use. Now it's beautiful and a bit of a bear to use. Me, I like easy to use. The new interface does feature one big ugly wart. The red Notification ad at the bottom trying to encourage you to upgrade. It's a small cost to avoid cost.

Other than that, there's an easy UpdateNow button, but you have to double-click on any of the components to get a look at it, rather than the old single-click. You can also use an enhanced Tools menu option to go through a full set of enhanced settings. basically, I turned most stuff on, preferring to be alerted to changes and let me decide what to do with them.

With one exception. Link Scanner.

I have the NoScript add-in for Firefox and it prevents drive-by applet running by sites I don't want to let things run on my computer. It provides the bulk of of what Link Scanner does and does it better. I get choices AND I know who and what are trying to access my computer. Link Scanner doesn't do that. And running it AND NoScript were causing me great delays loading pages as the two fought over what to deny running on various pages. I also didn't need Link Scanner checking the URLs on pages and letting me know which were okay and which were potentially naughty. Users of Internet Explorer (they still exist?) and Firefox users who are not running NoScript are the apparent target audience for Link Scanner.

So, I turned off Link Scanner. And things got back to normal. Ahhhh, well, close to normal. AVG responded petulantly. Instead of the gaily coloured squares in the icon representing AVG in the system tray, the icon reverted to the old grey-scale icon, this time with a red-circled exclamation mark over top. And, in fact, running the actual application warned me I "may not be protected! Some components report an error." Yeah, I know, I disabled Link Scanner.

There are times when AVG doesn't automatically update itself. In the old days, the appearance of the grey icon denoted that. Now, by turning off Link Scanner, I've lost the valuable tell-tale. Now, I will have to add running AVG manually on system upkeep Fridays and checking the status of the various non-Link Scanner components. It's a bother, but not much of one.

I thought of a solution for Grisoft. Let them use an icon with one or even two grey squares to indicate one or more components are disabled. Then, if it's not uptodate, resort to the full grey-scale icon as in the past. It's THAT situation that needs alerting to, not the user-decided disabling of a single component.

I think Link Scanner belongs in the full-blown AVG Internet Security product, NOT in the anti-virus product. It's cross-pollination into a product it doesn't belong to doesn't produce a stronger product. I think it demonstrably weakens it.

AVG now also plays into the scumware zone as it has an Anti-Spyware component too. I'll live with that for awhile. Doesn't affect web-browsing at this point. Seems innocuous enough. But that's because I'm not running any current ASW application such as CounterSpy or even AdAware 2007. If you ARE running something that isn't an after-the-fact scanner (like Spybot), then you have to decide which one to leave active. Having two programs trying to do the same thing at the same time is the recipe for computer failure. If you have the SLIGHTEST doubt that there might be a clash, turn off AVG's Anti-Spyware component.

Okay, what's the verdict? I'm running AVG 8 on my main computer.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

COMICS: You SAY You Want To, But...

Today is Free Comics Day! Should be a national holiday. I guess we'll have to settle for it being a Saturday.

It's the day when the comic industry puts out a double-dozen or so comic books intended for comic retail outlets to hand out to anybody who'll come by. It's a lot like Halloween in that kids can't just take one of all of the choices, but can usually work the retailer for a book or three.

Many of the comic books are nothing but advertisements for the product lines of the various publishers. Many other publishers adopt the policy of putting a new cover on an old title (of a popular character) and making the word FREE very prominent on the cover. Some, the smart ones, commission new work that serves as an introduction to their characters' universe.

All in all, it's a good effort. For one day each year. The rest of the time? The comic business couldn't care less about new readers.

Sure, they SAY they'd welcome new readers. But actions speak louder than words. I was struck by that during a visit to my local comics emporium (Comic Warehouse) and saw that the most recent Fantastic Four issue included a teen rating.

What is Marvel thinking? These are the characters who were featured in moves twice in the last few years. Untold potential new readers went to those movies. Instead of having kiosks in each movie theatre with free samples to hand out to youths exiting the movie (Plus directions on how to get to the local comic shop to get MORE), the rapidly aging free-thinkers at Marvel opted to up the sex and violence quotient of the book to the point where a teen advisory was slapped on the cover.

Does that strike you as the actions of an industry interested in the 10 year olds they left behind a generation ago?

It's only an example. The big two publishers, Marvel and DC, have engaged in the last few years in actions that just spit into the face of new readers. Recap pages describing "What has gone on before ..." are rarer than hen's teeth in books. At the same time, any popular character has multiple comics devoted to him or them (no hers at this point). Some have books that have mature ratings on one publication, no such rating on another. It's madness. Marvel will tell you, in defence of the FF strategy, that there IS an all-ages Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four. YOU explain the difference to a young reader, just being introduced to the medium.

And don't get me started on the crossovers that each company are running. You CANNOT read just one title and get the story. Too much of its story is off being told in some OTHER comic book, featuring a character you have no interest in. And I'm not talking about threading a story between titles from the same character, such as the various Spider-Man comics. I'm talking about needing to buy the FULL output of the company for MONTHS at a time to get all of the story you bought ONE comic to read part of. The companies have lost my support and my dollars. And I'm not alone.

I want kids to read comic books. It's how I learned to read when I was younger. Reading has been wonderful for me. A book (comic book or otherwise) has always been there to entertain me when there were no friends to play with, no shows to watch on TV, no music ubiquitously available to listen to. It's helped me get through schooling comfortably. It's informed and entertained me. It's made my life better. And reading all started with comic books.

There are a few comic book publishers out there trying to do the right thing. Archie Comics can always be depended on to provide something worth reading come Free Comics Day. And their stuff, harder to find that happy hens these days, is worth looking for. There are book-shaped comic books that feature comics from Japan called Manga. There are many good ones. Try out Hikeru No Go with a young lad who likes playing games. You won't be disappointed. DC acknowledges it's missed out on both youths AND girls. It's got a MINX line out for tween-aged to young adult ladies. A lot of them are good. And there are lots of other titles.

Many retailers will throw their hands up when somebody comes in after going to a movie about a comic-book character. They'll be at a loss to direct that new-found interest into becoming a new customer. It's no secret that comic-book adaptions of Buffy, Angel and Serenity (Firefly) are getting people INTO the comic stores. But there's nothing else to sell to them. They aren't interested in the overly complex, self-referential, headache-inducing stuff from Marvel and DC. The young kids, they just don't have stuff for at all. They would if they could.

There IS decent material out there. Talk to your local comics retailer. He or she will probably bend over backward to find stuff for your young son or daughter. They know that if they can engage the youngsters with the wonders of the four-colour printing process, they have a customer for life. If you do end up over at the Warehouse, tell Andrew or Mark I sent you. And to treat you real special.

Because you are.

SOFTWARE: Powerdesk Poops Out

I've been recently searching for a new file manager. I had given up on the PowerDesk/ExplorerPlus twins that I have used for ... about all of my niece Paige's life, and she's pushing 19 these days. The programs seemed to have stalled in 2004, and despite check-ups and queries about new version 7's of the product, I had finally decided to search elsewhere.

My search led to UltraExplorer, which has taken on some of the duties I know PD/EP have difficulty doing. Moving large numbers of files between folders to backup locations being a prime example of what I don't use the old familiars with. UE has the charm of being written in Delphi and it's free. You can check it out at

I'm looking forward to working with Jim on the upcoming upgrades to the program. He seems quite receptive to change suggestions.

On the other hand, I'd throw him over for an updated version of PowerDesk in a minute, if it cured the old bugaboos. And guess what I received in the email this week? Yep, there's a new version 7 from the latest owner of the software, Avanquest (through their acquisition of v-com). Imagine my joy. Also, my caution.

I called down to order by phone, IF the update addressed my issue with Undo Buffer Overflow, lack of handling of RAR files, failure to remember my preferred sort orders and those idiotic defaults that it has. After waiting 40 minutes on the speaker phone while I worked away on a problem I've been having with one of my OWN programs, the sales person informed me she'd have to transfer me to tech support. Another 30 minutes went by and I finally got a chance to talk to George. He was a nice guy from somewhere in the deep South, and I don't mean the southern states of India. A good ol' boy from the USA. And no more helpful that a script kiddie from Bangalore.

Turns out, the support department is still using version 6 of the software and nobody there knows anything about the new version 7. AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!

The sales literature promotes Vista support (of little worth to those of us smart enough to avoid Vista, meaning we already know Windows Explorer is inadequate), a hex editor (I'm sure there are at least five users who need that feature. No, now that I think about it, I might be overstating the need by 20 percent) and better toolbars. Oh, and some undocumented bug fixes.

I had a sick feeling. But one Vista-running client decided that any PowerDesk was better than Windows Explorer. So, I got the chance to play with it for a bit. And the decision is ...


Oh, that hurts me to say it. Or type it. Or whatever! It looks and feels (mostly) like the program I need it to be. There are more toolbars available. I immediately got rid of the extra one, which is just a big button version of the standard toolbar. No gain there. The look for PD7 is changeable with skins. They are all uniformly UGLEEEEEE! Turned off skin support. There's a new options screen that gives you more choices, but generally nothing that I couldn't do already in PD6. It DOES run in Vista, so I'm hoping it will run on Windows Server 2000, but I won't PUSH for it to be bought for that purpose. For the limited amount of file management I do on WS2K, Windows Explorer and 7-Zip seem to work out ok. But it IS possible it will run on WS2K, so give it a point of pro-ness.

It does handle RAR as directories and will open them. Don't know if they will save them, too. But if not, 7-Zip does that. So another point. And when opening a zip file, and clicking on a file inside of it, the dang warning message came up. I clicked the don't annoy me again box before clicking OK. And you know something? The warning didn't come back, even after closing and restarting PD7! Count that as triple pro points. Sadly, the default behaviour for the program to use full-row selection, preventing you from lassoing files in details view is still the default. MORON, MORON, MORON. The MORON who decided that that should be the default, is probably related to the idiot who decided to redesign the IBM computer keyboard (TWICE) rather than use the IBM Selectric layout.

And then all the pro points disappeared into a flash of uselessness. Accessing a folder with 603 files and about 53 Megs of content slowed the display to a crawl. Shockingly slow. As if it was accessing the folder over the internet using a dial-up connection. I stopped the test. Apologized for whatever part I had in paying the $20 bucks upgrade fee. And slunk out, tail between my legs.

You can still get PowerDesk 6 (it's like 10 bucks), which remains a very good replacement for Windows Explorer (assuming you aren't running Vista, in which case, you're on your own). I wish it were perfect. It's not, but right now, it's better than PowerDesk 7. A lot of you won't even run into the undo buffer overflow issues that I have addressed the program's owners (I think the number of companies that have sold either PD or EP has reached nine) with over the years. Who knows, you might prefer Icon view and not have my murderous rage at the idiocy of the full row selection default in details view.

But wait for at least the first update to PD 7. It's not ready for Prime Time, even though it's three years late in appearing. Wonder if any of those ex-Microsofties are involved in this ...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

SPORTS: Give That Fan a Contract!

My favourite sports story ...

It's opening day in a brand new baseball season. It's early in the 20th century and the beloved Bums of Brooklyn are opening up the season at home. The Dodgers had fallen on bad times the previous few seasons. Despite that, the stands were full of well-dressed men in suits, a few women in stately Sunday best (it wasn't a Sunday, but getting dressed up was a requirement back then), and more than a few kids, playing hooky from school for this most important day in the spring calendar.

The Brooklyn pitcher gets the ball. The Batter digs into the fresh dirt of the batter's box and finally gets his feet in just the right position and cocks the bat back behind his ear. The Umpire motions with his hand and bellows, "PLAY BALL!" The pitcher rears back and delivers a pitch plateward. "BALL ONE!" yells the ump.

From deep in the grandstand comes one leather-lunged fan's rejoinder.


For the Canadiens and Sharks fans in the pools and in front of their TV sets.

LIFE: Can't We All Just Get Along?

A chance meeting today with an old friend gave me a chance to tangle with the poor put-upon right wing.

I haven't seen Tom O'Malley in ten years. Before that, I'd enjoyed a friendship and a working relationship with the hedge-fund manager. Tom's prior careers included running a restaurant/bar (which never has recovered from his selling of it), a printing business and a calling card business. I provided computer services to all three enterprises and actually frequented the bar ... to play NTN Trivia on Tuesday nights.

There wasn't a doubt that Tom was a conservative, despite being bright and inquisitive about many things, and that I was a small-c liberal. We had a few discussions during the years and we could agree to disagree.

In the last decade, Tom's moved further right and I might have inched a little bit left, creating a larger divide. But the pleasure in having a political discourse with Tom today was that neither of us were all the way out to the fringe. The key is to admit the other side isn't completely wrong. And both Tom and I could meet in the middle occasionally.

How much? Well, disheartingly, not as much as we used to. He thinks Harper's the best Prime Minister this country's had in his lifetime. I think he's Bush Lite. He acknowledges Bush's failures in execution, but not in theory. BUT, we do agree on things like the concern that too many Americans AND Canadians bleat Not Me!, rather than taking personal responsibility. He abhors the decline in education overall and real-life education in particular. I'm on-side with that, having decades ago tried to get the local school board to teach Media Studies to allow for the mining of opinion in the media for something closer to the truth. I failed.

Tom feels strongly about his positions. He maintains the media in general (excepting radio and FoxNews) are very left-leaning liberal idiots. He cites the Harvard study that showed headlines about conservatives ran 3-2 negative, while the liberal headlines were 3-2 positive. He seems to gloss over the fact that lots of right-wingers create headlines by campaigning against behaviours they later get caught doing, while liberals just do what comes naturally. More of a 'Dog Bites Man' approach to creating news. I obviously disagree with Tom, and my time in both print journalism and radio, let me tell you that "The Media" is WAAAAAAY more conservative than the right wing will admit and that the left likes.

Now, this sounds like a full throw-down yell fest, between two diametrically-opposed policy wonks. It wasn't. It was just an entertaining conversation between two old friends. Unlike the oblivion that I hope Bush and his Bush-ites fall into come November, I'm hoping it won't be ten years until I see my old friend again.

SPORTS: Here's the Why

A LOT of people think sports are just silly wastes of time. Since I earned my livelihood in the sports biz for the best part of a decade and a half, I sorta disagree. Sometimes, sports just transcends all the other crap I call a life. Even if I'm not there. Check out the following link. It answers why.