Sunday, August 31, 2008


Well, I was going to fill this slot with a long analysis of what I liked and disliked about the Olympics, but work intrudes. So a segue to some good news.

Real Time with Bill Maher started it's seventh (or 11th... depends on some accounting irregularities) season Friday night, joyfully celebrating a return and a news present in the form of the new Republican vice-presidential nominee, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The result was predictable. Maher and the panelists, Craig Ferguson, Michel Martin and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (a Democrat) had a field day. The funniest part was a New Rules quick joke session on tape with various Democrat bigwigs (many putative Democratic VP candidates) delivering the punch lines. They were actually pretty good.

The last bit hasn't made it to YouTube yet. But it will. At least I hope HBO will release it.

Welcome back Bill.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

TV: Two Misses at the End

A funny thing's happened to me during my TV viewing over the last couple of days. At times, there has not been sports or American presidential foofooraw on the tube. Yep, I'm catching up with some of the backlog of series recordings that have been piling up during the Olympics and my current unfortunate tendency to work.

And I wish I'd stopped a little short of finishing both Ocean Girl and In Plain Sight.

The first three seasons of Ocean Girl, a fifteen-year old teen SF series from Australia, were entertaining, if a little hokey. It had a heavy eco-friendly message, but coached it in terms teens could and would watch happily.

It starred Marzena Gordecki as the title heroine, a princess from the Ocean Planet, living on earth on an island off the coast of Australia. Orca City, a marine research station, housed brothers Jason and Brett Bates, played by David Hoflin and Jeffrey Walker respectively, who stumble on Gordecki's character Neri. For three years they had adventures aplenty, running into all kinds of characters. It was good stuff, highlighted by some great underwater swimming effects. Gordecki, who seems not to have done anything other than this series, was most impressive because it looked like she did a LOT of her own swimming stunts.

All three seasons are available from the American Amazon site, but be warned, you have to have a multi-region player capable of viewing Australian-made DVDs to watch them. I managed to get the fourth season of Ocean Girl and feel sorry for all the effort it took to get a cobbled-together copy of that last season.

It is a mess. It's well-established that the Ocean Planet is capable of space travel and is concerned for the well-being of the seas and all its creatures on Earth. Neri has a sister, another princess named Mera, who visited during the second and third seasons. All in all, it's obvious that there is almost a paternalistic situation vis-a-vis the Ocean Planet and Earth. In the fourth season, that's all thrown away in a lame story about the Ocean Planet people using pyramids to invade Earth and enslave what's going to be left of the population after the polar ice caps are intentionally melted. Fighting off the forces of the Ocean Planet are Neri, Orca City and the previously-unheard of Praxis. Praxis is an alien-fighting organization that is populated by Australians and one incredibly stupid American send-up and holds sway over all other forces. It's ridiculous. And so are the so-called advanced Ocean Planet people, who stumble around a marsh hunting for a fleeing Mera. It's all quite awful.

Do yourself a favour if you have tweens. Make an effort to get the first three seasons of Ocean Girl and ignore any and all urges to complete the set. As far as you should be concerned, Ocean Girl ends with the third-season triumph over the forces of UBRI. (Those were the nasty guys in the second and third series)

Now, onto In Plain Sight, USA's series focusing in on the Federal Marshal's Witness Protection system. Mary McCormack, who basically is watchable reading a telephone book, stars as Marshal Mary Shannon, a combination of tough federal agent and completely screwed up personally. It's fun to watch her do her job so competently, ably abetted by partner Marshal Marshall Mann (played by Frederick Weller) and her boss Stan McQueen (played by Paul Ben-Victor). Weller's brilliant as the straight man to McCormack's bundle of barely restrained hostility. Ben-Victor's got the pushover boss with the occasional glimpses of competence role down pat.

It's the home life that lets McCormack and the show down badly. Shannon has a screw-up sister played by Nichole Hiltz who's at least pretty to look at. Still, most shows have to have some character to deflate the lead character's ego a little and to require the odd saving. Admit it, Superman NEEDS Lois Lane, and did all those years before marrying her.

No, the problem with the series and with the final episode especially, is a hateful character played by Lesley Warren. Shannon's mother Jinx is one of the most unlikeable characters seen on TV screens in many a moon. Her drunken rantings make you wish somebody would put a gun to YOUR head to put yourself out of your misery.

Still, Jinx was seen little enough that you could just fast-forward through her scenes and assuage those rumblings in your gorge. She has a completely, utterly unfounded reaction to seeing her landlord daughter in the penultimate show, shortly before Mary gets kidnapped. But then, in the final episode, after Mary's been returned only slightly harmed, this Mother of the Year candidate (in the Mommie Dearest universe only), teams up with the screw-up to utter some of the most inane and idiotic dialog ever to come out of a writer's computer. There's a writer out there with some serious mommy issues.

IF the series is to return, they have to kill Warren's character off-screen during the hiatus. Warren's probably a nice person. She keeps getting work that require her to slather on the make-up and look like somebody trying desperately to hang on to some mis-spent youth. She plays that role time and time again. This time, she has to say no. The writers hate the character and the viewers hate the actress playing the character. Jinx is that unlikeable.

Besides, Mary will always have her sister to cause trouble. Again, this is a series to catch on DVD when it comes out. Just skip the last episode and move on to the extras.

Friday, August 29, 2008

MISC: American Politics. Tis a Puzzlement!

I am a small 'C' liberal. I'm probably closer to libertarian than any other denomination of political view point. But in general, I think of conservatives, these days, as small-minded people interested in forcing people to their viewpoint, whether it be economical or religious, or both. Liberals tend to be dreamers who want better for the collective, but don't always have the ability to say NO! For me, I am looking for some one who's conservative in nature, but willing to let others do their thing. I want a better world for everybody, not just for me and my chums. I hope I have that explained that so you can understand where I come from.

In addition to my general beliefs, I also believe all politicians are liars. They have to be. They promise everything to everybody, because you can't effect your own agenda until you are in office. The worst politicians are the ones who then don't stop lying, to the public and to themselves AFTER getting elected. I DO think political office can be a noble thing, I just think it's a rare thing.

Still with me?

As a Canadian who gets sideswiped by the American backwash, I DO have an interest in American politics. I actually LIKE most Americans. Sure, generally speaking, they seem self-centred as a country, but when they DO look up from the navel-gazing, there's probably not a bigger-hearted country in the world. Well, except for Canada, the best country that has ever existed.

Over the last eight years, the United States of America has worked hard to totally destroy its reputation globally. That's hard to contemplate, harder to do. Yet the religious zealots who have placed a corrupt and incompetent (it would have been far, far better to have emplaced a competent corrupt crew in power), are going to get another chance to continue this strategy of self-destruction in two month's time.

How in the world can any sane rational man vote to continue the policies and practices of the Karl Rove shadow government? Guys I respect like Bob Thompson and Jerry Pournelle will. There are others, including nutcase jobs like that SF writer from down Carolina way, who I've tangled with before. They will all vote for soon-to-be-dead, ever-forgetful John McCain over Barack Obama. And it has nothing to do with him being black, as will be the case with a few million mentally-deficient racist morons. No, they hate the thought of a liberal being elected.

When exactly did liberal become such a nasty word. Why the Republicans have elevated it to the status of the 'N' word, applied to people with such dripping disgust as to make the person unelectable. Heck, you shouldn't even allow a liberal into your home, for fear of being tainted. The first two definitions of the word at the on-line Free Dictionary are:

a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

I would hope everybody I know and call a friend would aspire to both of these definitions. There IS a second set of definitions:

a. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
b. Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.

That's the fact that conservatives want to hang liberals on. They give too much. Of other people's money.

Except in the USA, the last Liberal/Democrat President, ran a balanced budget. He started digging into the deficit run up over the years by an almost complete line of Conservative/Republican predecessors. The current President, the 'conservative' choice, has saddled ALL Americans with debt their great-great-grandchildren will STILL not be able to pay off. America is the greatest debtor nation in the HISTORY of the world.

While doing so, he has savaged the reputation of the country around the world, lowered the standard of living of all but the top few per cent of the population (i.e. his pals and their pals) and he has run a corrupt government who ignores law as if it was a line item in building a bridge to nowhere. If ever there was an emperor with no clothes, it is George W. Bush. Boy do we miss Molly Ivins these days.

And now, the American populace, told that elite is something NOT to want in a leader, are preparing to possibly send McCain and a young female companion to the White House to continue policies set in place by Rove and Dick Cheney, the man behind the curtain. Literally. McCain remembers and misremembers positions depending on the audience and the wind direction. He cites Obama's inexperience than pulls out an even less-experienced running mate out of the wilds of Alaska. He runs as a maverick, having voted party lines over 90 percent of the time, which is about the same percentage as Obama has voted liberally over the much smaller data sample. His claim to fame is that he got caught by the enemy and wouldn't come home at the first opportunity. Honesty and integrity require more than words, when a wife-cheater utters them. It demands exceeding those standards since. His involvement with the Charles Keating fiasco suggests that wasn't the case.

What's worse, is that he BECAME that kind of politician he railed against eight years ago when Rove and his minions spread lies about McCain's adopted non-caucasian daughter. That kind of stuff works in South Carolina. McCain decried negative, slurring politics at the time. He's embraced it whole clothe since.

I wish the liberals were smart enough to understand that you have to get INTO power, to use it. As has been pointed out in numerous places, a simple ad campaign built around McCain's week-to-week meanderings around the truth and his own past statements would surely dunkirk the Republican candidate. He'd be revealed as the rapidly-aging man that he is. A man no-one in all good conscious should want anywhere near the button.

The Democrats keep talking about what THEY are going to do in office, although that strategy has failed time and time again. People assume they are lying. And when the Democrat candidates stay above the negative fray, they allow stupider-than-a-doornail Americans to assume that the Republicans must be telling the truth about the Democrat nominee. Otherwise, they'd hear a rebuttal. That's how it works in the kitchen at THEIR home. So, they vote Republican, even though it will lessen their standard of living year by year.

For once, and Obama's Thursday-night acceptance speech hints at the possibility, the Democrats might just go ahead and try to WIN the highest office in the nation. The last time they did, it was with a derisive slogan. "It's the economy, stupid." It was never said directly, but the stupid wasn't referring to the populace, but to the decision-maker dragging down the economy at the time.

It's time to get elected Democrats. We Canadians love you too much to be happy with a bad second choice.

MISC: The Better Book Bookmark

I finally came to the end of reading Dr. Joe & What You Didn't Know, which I originally wrote about here. With that, I put away the Chapters Bookstore bookmark that I had curiously kept with the book during it's four-month service as a bathroom reader.

Actual, real leather or cardboard, bookmarks are an actual rarity in the house. Sure, I have lots of them, including some ornate metal and jewel ones, but I almost never use them. I'm shocked I never replaced the bookmark in the book with my semi-new standard for book bookmarks ... 3M PostIt Notes Flags.

I have been using the small flag type of PostIt's for quite a while now. They're approximately a half inch wide by an inch and a half long. For almost all books, the fit comfortably down a margin and stick up unobtrusively. That is until you want to find your place. Then it's easy to get right to the page, although you have to decide whether to use strictly left or right side bookmarking, or do what I do, which is to do the bi-choice thing, putting on the page where I actually stopped reading. It's a personal preference thing.

Now, the advantages of using this are fairly obvious. The things stick like glue, so no bookmark falling out, thus losing your place. You don't have to hold them while reading the page you stopped on or play tilt-a-mark with the book, trying to read under a bookmark you've left in place. You don't have to remember to return the bookmark after finishing reading the new starting page, because it's still there. You can leave the bookmark slapped on the inside of the back cover when you are finished, ready for the next person to read the book to have a built-in bookmark. You can even write on the bookmarks, possibly noting date of reading, for example.

The cons? Well, in old paperbacks, the margin's are slimmer than you would like. Putting a flag over the old printing will lift minute amounts of the ink. Sometimes, it will transfer those minute amounts on the next page. Generally, you WILL be able to find a spot to stick the sticky part of the flag without impacting the old printing. Won't look neat, but it retains all the other advantages.

One last advantage. I'm old, getting older and I've read (and kept) LOTS of books. Sometimes, as with my search for a book by Henry Kuttner, I WANT to re-read a book. Other times, I will pick up a book and start reading and won't get to a familar part until a couple of chapters in. That's where LEAVING the bookmark in the back of the book comes in handy. I usually don't start reading until I check that I haven't read the book ALREADY. Saves time. Trust me.

That's why I went upstairs, grabbed a flag and placed on the back cover of Dr. Joe Schwarcz's book. When you have three or four of his tomes, as I do, it's helpful to know WHICH ones you have still to enjoy.

MISC: Is YOUR Word Your Bond?

I was reading Steven Grant's latest column at Comic Book Resources yesterday, which features artist Steve Ditko. Leaving aside the discussion on the pro's and con's of artistic appreciation of Ditko's work, the column also expands on the ongoing debate over Ditko's (lack of) compensation for his inventive work on Spider-Man.

Discussing Ditko's lack of willingness to press new legal advantages brought about over the creative rights to Superman, Grant says:

"The last time any alleged communications on the matter leaked out, Ditko's approach to the deals he made during his career, especially with then-Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, he indicated he would not try to take advantage of changes in the law to make any claims on Spider-Man or other characters, citing that he knew what he was doing when he entered into the deal and he wouldn't go back on that simply because circumstances had changed. Even though, again according to Bell, Goodman had gone back on a handshake deal giving Ditko participation in Spider-Man."

This elevates Ditko in my opinion, although Grant seems to feel otherwise. It's rare today to see anybody not grubbing about for every spare penny. This is a case of a man in the right, who won't do wrong to get what's his by rights. He figures he gave his word and he'll honour it. Even to his disadvantage.

Compare that to the recent news that Pedro Alvarez is trying to extract some extra money from the Pittsburgh Pirates. It might mean going back on his verbal commitment to the team at the stroke of midnight on the deadline for signing draft picks, but what's honour when you and that rat-weasel of an agent, Scott Boras, can exploit potential loopholes for more braggin' money. Hope he breaks BOTH legs jumping up and down on Boras.

Recently, I had some construction done on the house. I paid an hourly rate that was okay. But on four of five days, I paid for the worker to go 'shopping' for materials. I ended up paying almost 22 percent of the total paid for his 'work' off-site. A little discussing with friends revealed how stupid I'd been. I told the worker that future tasks would be quoted at a fixed cost. No more paying for him talking up sales clerks at the local tools emporium. I STILL wanted him to work for me, the quality being top-notch, but I was going to bring the rising costs under control ... and inspection. He quoted high on the first task, which I then passed on. Suddenly, that task was three times cheaper and the rest of the tasks were all economically viable. I've got him continuing to work here off-and-on right through the spring. That said, I didn't ask for a single penny back for the time he was over-charging me in total, while billing hourly. Why? Because I agreed to that deal. End of discussion.

A couple of earlier examples of putting my mouth where my wallet should have been. I was agented a job by a really slimy politician back when I was just getting started as a programmer. I later found out the agent was pocketing more than I was for the job. Later, I had to do some upgrades for the job and the client, glad to be rid of the agent's involvement, offered me the full hourly fee he was paying to the agent (who then paid me). I did the upgrades for free. I couldn't steal the money from the agent, as deserving as it would have been. But neither could I put money into the scumbucket's pocket either. So, doing it for free worked for me. A decade later, the client had a whole different project and remembered the ethical programmer he'd once known. THAT project paid for a new car.

My brief fling at radio was a series of blunders and mistakes. I'd left the newspaper business in a huff over a useless writer-wannabe reporter getting a bigger raise than I did. Especially since I had to do MORE work to cover the fact that he fancied himself quite the writer and only did a couple of pieces each week. Not the best excuse, but there it was. I bounced from the Guardian over to CKMW radio as their noon-sports guy and local sports commentator. I knew I was a raw rookie, although a 15-year sports journalist. So I verbally agreed to a ridiculously small amount of money weekly and a car. I was going to make the rest up as a free-lance writer, which I did. I survived that first year, making every mistake in the broadcast book ... and then some. But by year's end, I had become a tolerable newsreader and commentator. The verbal agreement was for a substantial raise after 'proving' myself. I walked into the manager's office, told him it was my one-year anniversary and reminded him of my upcoming raise.

His response? "Well, I don't remember it going exactly that way."

My response? "Over the last year, I'm the only person who's been on staff who hasn't come in here demanding or begging for a raise. Most of 'em have been in here more than once. I even defended you. Sorry to see I was wrong."

I walked out the door, gathered up my things and never went back. I KEPT my word. HIS word wasn't worth the waste of oxygen it had taken to utter it.

Your name and your honour. The only two things you can't ever have taken away from you. Unless you give them up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

MISC: This and That

Aaron Hill, out of the Toronto Blue Jays' line-up because of concussion after-effects, is apparently well enough to make a few bucks acting. He's co-starring in the TV series, Greek, as Beaver. KIDDING! It's a different Aaron Hill completely. But it's still shocking to see the name flash across the screen as a co-star in the show, when we have been missing Hill in The Big Show!

Embarcadero, the latest owners of Delphi, my programming language of choice, have officially announced Delphi 2009 and are taking orders. I've been watching the sales webinars (seminars over the web) all week and I'm a tad bit tempted to make the leap from Delphi 7, the flavour of the Pascal language that I favour. Nothing has leapt out to grab my attention and bucks. BUT if they find away to lower the cost on Blackfish SQL licensing, I'd have to seriously consider it. That and letting me ditch the single document interface (invented at Microsoft, boo hiss boo) for the multiple document interface I bought three monitors for.

A bad loss to Hamilton on Labour Day Monday will end Rich Stubler's head-coaching career. It's one thing to lose to the Montreals and Saskatchewans of the CFL. Losing FOUR straight to the Tabbies, including the one in the pre-season, just can't look good to Argo ownership. The club ditched the wrong quarterback this past weekend, sending Michael Bishop to the Roughies in Regina, then dunkirked Orlondo Steinauer less than a year after earning all-star honours in the defensive backfield. The owners, who have FOUR other former head coaches on the payroll, have laid the blame on the players thus far. Another loss, and the long walk home from Hamilton will be as an ex-coach. Look Pinball Clemons to stay on the sidelines if that happens. Steve Burrato or, less likely, Greg Mohns, will be running the show the day after a loss to the still Casey Printers-less team from down the 401.

The Middleman has been the hit of the summer and Natalie Morales is now the IT Girl for all the geeks into comics, science fiction and just plain adorable TV. Count me in the group. The season's been cut down to 12 episodes from the original 13 ordered by ABC Family, but that's allegedly with the agreement of the creative staff. Next Monday night, a 'mirror universe' episode, might be it for the show. If that's the case, SCI-FI better RUN to the negotiating table and rescue the show from oblivion.

You have email. You have an inbox. That should not contain ALL of your email. Set up folders, yearly folders if necessary. Move the email OUT of your inbox and into the folders you create. People who have thousands of emails in their inbox are LAZY MORONS who should NOT BE ALLOWED to have an email account. Clean out the mail box. Delete all of the email in the junk folder. Then EMPTY the trash. And do it weekly. Or I will come live with you. And you can't afford that.

This summer was the first in two decades where I didn't participate in a baseball roto league. Apparently, you CAN live without perusing the line-scores first thing every morning, and then spend a good hour a week plotting trades to take advantage of the poor sots battling for second place (behind me, or course). With the hockey draft about a month away, give or take a week, I'm wondering if I will put the effort into hockey that I have in the past. Lest the rest of you losers REALLY think I'll give it a less-than-winning effort, Fuhgeddabut it!

McCain IS the king of french fries. The 5kg bag at Costco is not only a financial bargain, it's a tasteful triumph of the warm and toasty sliced and diced potato. And each bag seems to contain only perfectly rendered french fries. I've seen none of the little remainders that end up burning into ash in the oil, shortening the life-span of the shortening a fair bit. Oddly enough, the store-bought McCain fries seem to hail from a different factory in a different country entirely. Just the beige appearance of the store-bought kind is enough to tell you different isn't better. The stark-white pristine chips in the Costco bag are a welcome sight when I can get around to getting them.

Motion sensor lights at the front door, instead of the old overly-bright naked light bulb, are a REAL GOOD IDEA. It's going to save money aplenty, even factoring in the cost of buying them and having them professionally installed. The electricity alone will make it a winner of a deal, considering how often I turn on the outside light and then forget to turn it off. Besides, I was up that first night when the paper delivery person delivered my morning paper. The look on his face was precious.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

SOFTWARE: Nag, Nag, Nag

The first of the nags from Mozilla to upgrade Firefox from version 2.x to 3.01 appeared on my desktop tonight. These nags will continue until I give in and upgrade or until December, when the Mozilla Foundation will cease to care about my upgrading.

At that point, version 2.x of Firefox will no longer be supported or cared about.

A little bit harsh, but I've known it was coming. There WILL be upgrades to Firefox 2.x between now and the deadline at the end of the year. In fact, another one is due in mid September. It will be up to you to read the nag notice and discern whether the upgrade they are offering is to Firefox 2.x or an upgrade to Firefox 3.x.

I, on the other hand, will be holding out a tad bit longer. MOST of my complaints with FF3 have been answered, save for the major pain in the posterior. When I middle click on a folder in FF2, the bookmarks in the folder open up in new tabs on the far right of my list of opened tabs. I DO NOT MOVE. This allows me to middle click on four or five folders in rapid succession. They will open (eventually) at the far right side while I mosey my way through the tab I am on. It's a most civilized behaviour.

FF3, on the other hand, screws this up royally. If I have the Toronto Sun Sunshine girl page open, perusing the young lass's bio, but middle click on my DailySports folder, I am instantly transported away from the lovely sight to a page of baseball news, the first of the bookmarks in DailySports. Should I then middle-click on DailyComputers, those tabs will open up to the IMMEDIATE right of the baseball news, before the rest of sports, and I will suddenly be looking at the daily digest of Delphi news, having skipped one tab to the right, away from the baseball news. And on and on. It's a most uncivilized behaviour.

WHEN FF3 either corrects this odious behaviour, or allows me to configure it so, or a third-party add-in arrives to fix the day, THEN I will happily switch over to FF3. It's faster, leaner and has some REAL interesting add-ins that are not available for FF2.

Until then, nag, nag, nag all you want. I'm immune to complaining.

Monday, August 25, 2008

MISC: Tick, Tick, No Need to Hang-up

My nap today was interrupted by the common, a phone ring. When I answered, I heard something decidedly uncommon. "I am calling from Buffalo, New York." Ahhh, it's THAT time of the year 2008.

This is the month that Canada starts its Do Not Phone Registry. The felons who run scam operations like that Gifting Centre allegedly out in Vancouver have jumped the gun and the border. The fact that it sounds like the same guy and that he sounds like he hails from Nigeria, doesn't matter. They're going to break the law anyway, scumbags that they are. I suggest you (if you are Canadian), just hang up immediately if the phone call starts the same way. Honest folk will say who they are, who they are calling from and THEN mention, it's a long-distance call. Might as well make as short of work as possible, scratching these fleas.

Now, onto to the good news of the Do Not Phone List, swinging in effect at the end of the month to be effective October 1, 2008. First, it won't be nirvana. There's enough loopholes in the system as to ensure that shutting off the torrent of phone calls will only reduce them to a trickle. It WILL cut out a lot of the duct and window cleaning phone calls I've been getting lately. And really, I've been less-plagued than most of late by the usual twits, the phone and cable salesmen.

That's because I took the time to use Michael Geist's iOptOut site. Once you get there, get an account and then tick off all the companies that tick you off. I basically said do 'em all and then unticked my bank. Since then, which was about five months ago, the bozos at Bell called twice, one of my old employers, the Globe and Mail, tried once again to get me to take that paper, and I DID hear from a political party, but they got the same answer as always. Who I vote for is between me and the back wall of the voting booth.

Doing this reduced the amount of annoying, rage-inducing phone calls roughly in half. I still got the occasional phone call from the crooks at the Gifting Centre and more than a few that started with the explanation that me or one of my family had filled out a survey. We ALL know THAT is a lie. Those are almost all scams. If you DO make the mistake of filling out a survey that might lead to a prize later, get a signed and dated receipt from the surveyor detailing WHO will be fulfilling the prize portion. Set up a calendar to know when to expect to be bothered. Of course, the easier course is not to participate. If you do, you can always give your cable-company's phone number as your own. Or use the number of that noisy neighbour. Heh, heh, heh.

You can get information on the national Do Not Call List by going to the government site. You can get the phone number to do so from that site. The phone number, 1-866-580-DNCL (3625), won't activate until Sept 30, 2008. Expect to have to work through some busy signals that day. But it will be worth it to never hear, "Mr or Mrs Mugford? My name is Mike and I'm calling from Very Annoying Duct and Window Cleaning Services ..."

And if you do, it will cost them 15 grand a shot.

SPORTS: No PP'ing Table Tennis

The nice thing about having multiple TVs on during the Olympics is that occasionally you find yourself riveted by the 'B' story (the little TV) instead of a not-bad story going on, on the main TV. Such was the case Saturday night during the final day of Olympic competition. I was watching the Men's Volleyball final between Brazil and the USA, an event I looked forward to. Each Olympiad reminds me just how entertaining volleyball is, played at the highest of levels. Men or women, indoor volleyball is pretty good.

But I ended up watching the Table Tennis Men's gold medal game between Wang and Ma on NBC for the most part.

Ma Lin won it in five frenetic games that saw Wang Hua almost wipe out four or five point deficits in each of the four lost games. I quite enjoyed the competition and wonder, to be honest, why people over here (in North America), seem to have such a hard time following games on TV. For me, it was perfectly watchable, engrossing even. I like the fact that there was little in the way of histrionics. No coaches interfered, since the Chinese have the quaint notion that if two team members play each other, THEY should decide the match, rather than interfering coaches. They sit in the stands instead. Eliminates the old "YOU like HIM/HER better than MEEEEEEEEE" ranting. All in all, like I say, I ended up focusing in on Table Tennis over Volleyball.

I have a family history in table tennis. My dad was a pretty good player and I was the only one of the three kids that really took up the game. Oddly, it's probably the only activity my father and I ever shared for about the first 50 years of my life.

My dad set up the ping pong table in the basement. And make no mistake, it was a ping-pong table. An old press-board two-part relic with a net that sagged more than it should. But Dad and I spent hours down there playing around. Went through a sleeve of halite balls every month. It was a lot of fun.

I initially learned playing with old Chinese sandpaper bats. Not a huge amount of control, but even as a kid, I could really hit the ball with those old bats. I even stubbornly refused to use the orange rubber pimple-faced bats that Dad bought one Christmas ... for about a month. Got a little sick and tired of being beat 15-0 and 21-0 depending on which game we were playing to. I finally started scoring some points again when I went with the better controlling rubber bats.

Dad never coddled me or the others. He'd play his style and let us work ourselves into a real lather while he just played a return game. I'd smash forehand and backhand and he'd just doink it back over the net to let me wear myself out some more. Hey, I was a kid. I wasn't that I was too stupid to notice which one of was getting all the exercise, it was just I kept figuring the NEXT time I smashed it, it would be a winner.

At the same time as I was getting 'lessons' from my father, I was also playing in a social game over at Steve Baldwin's house pretty regularly. Steve had top-of-the-line equipment and also had a father interested in the game. Nice people, the Baldwins. Steve was always just a little bit better than I was, but I won often enough that we both enjoyed the competition. Some of the 'Baldwin Opens' tended to go a little late into the night. First night of my life I EVER stayed out past midnight, it was because the final went extra long before I lost to Steve. On my way home, I considered every excuse and discarded them all. I was going to have to face the music. As it turns out, just around the corner from our house, somebody else's house was on fire. My family was there gawking. I just sidled past them, not considering to stay and watch the tragedy. I was absent-mindedly reading a book when the family got back from the bonfire. "Where've you been?" I asked.

And I got away with that one.

I think it was my 14th birthday. But it might have been the 15th. The best of the birthday presents that year was a Stellan Bengtsson-model bat, with red rubber over inverted pimples on one side and green rubber over sponge on the other. It was absurdly expensive, about 40 bucks. And it was all I could think of for about the next month. My dad flipped when I notched a finger groove on the red side. But it was MY bat.

For awhile, I did better, just because of the bat. I scored more than a few points of Dad regularly, although I'd be past my 16th birthday before I actually beat him. And my results against Steve and company were much, much better, prompting the whole crowd to get pro-model bats. Once that happened, Steve re-asserted the edge he held.

I never clubbed it for table tennis. The Brampton Bullets were in their early days then. Steve went, but eventually dropped out. We were all satisfied with playing our friends, enjoying our little pond. Dad didn't play much after I started beating him, the mountain having been climbed. But eventually, high school intruded on our little competition and we all drifted apart.

College came and presented a chance to have some fun, make some money. I was always pretty good left-handed, playing handshake grip. I could defend well enough that I could get the odd shark to try and take me for some money, especially after I volunteered to play right-handed. Handshake or pen-holder, I'd then play well enough to win the wager. Being right-handed probably helped with that.

All of these memories resurfaced Saturday night watching Ma upset Wang for the gold medal. I have NO idea where in the house that Bengtsson bat is. The folded up ping pong table is over in a corner of the basement, hidden behind boxes and boxes of books, magazines and comics. I have no next generation of Mugfords to teach ping pong to. Which is too bad.

Because learning ping pong on the way to taking up Table Tennis is a LOT of fun.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

MOVIES: Deathrace 2008

One of the worst excesses of the 70's was a piece of bad movie-making by actually really good movie people called Death Race 2000. Roger Corman made the movie and helped (hindered?) the careers of stars like Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine. Character actors like Mary Woronov and Martin Kove, as well as future Love Boater and politician Fred Grandy were on board. And John Landis and director Paul Bartell both did walk-ons. It was Corman Crap at its best.

It was also the movie I was treated to on my 19th birthday by Therese Sullivan. Therese was in her rebellious phase at the time, taking up with me after her sister Kathy and I parted. Didn't last long. But I have fond memories of the future Mrs. Kevin West and martial artist.

So, forgive me if I remember the movie a little more positively than most. A video-game of the future come to life, the movie was basically a Cannonball Run rip-off with the added 'feature' of points-scoring by mowing down pedestrians. The more politically-incorrect the 'victim,' the higher the point score. Some of it was flinch-inducing, not for the comedic violence, but for the sheer bad taste. It wasn't until the end when the unctuous announcer bites the tire that you feel good about any points being scored.

This Death Race movie shares a name with its putative parent. Tricked out cars too. End of connection. I've got no reason to see it, since it's nothing but jibber-jabber followed by car explosions. It'd bore me to tears.

Might be worth pulling out the old VHS tape of the original though. Afterall, Corman knew back then to leaven his violence with at least a little bit of sex.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

SOFTWARE: Hasta La Vista Babies

It has been said that there are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics (occasionally called American political opinion polls, but that's a story for another post).

Microsoft has been bruiting around lately that the adoption rate for Vista is the same as XP when comparing product life-spans. They are pitching, but we ain't catchin', that Vista has penetrated the market at the same rate as XP had when it was nearing three years of age. That is probably true, assuming some negative facts Microsoft has not placed into evidence.

Now, there's another statistic out there that doesn't disagree, but extends the statistic a little bit more. One in THREE corporate Vista buyers is turning around and 'upgrading' those Vista licenses BACK to XP! So, for every 99 new Vista licenses sells, 33 turns back into an XP licence. At this rate of Vista gaining only 33 licenses on XP for every hundred sold, Vista will be used as much as XP by ... never.

It's not ALL bad for Microsoft though. Think about it. Steve Ballmer's company, the one Bill built, is now actually selling TWO licences per computer to those smart enough to avoid using Vista. That's pretty good for Microsoft, when you think about. And given that the under-development Windows 7.0 now looks more like Vista SP2, then it does something new (like Midori), the trend will undoubtedly continue. Contracts will force corporations to buy Win7, which most will immediately upgrade back to XP. Is this the LITERAL definition of 'license to print money?'

At any rate, you know my antipathy towards Vista. I won't work on a Vista machine, having gone insane with my experience with a laptop this spring. I'm not the only one. Here's a link to a rant by a fellow Delphi programmer who details the reasons why he uses and hates this horrible excuse at a money grab by Microsoft. Check out Barry Kelly's blog entry, Venting on Vista.

Friday, August 22, 2008

SPORTS: Bolt of Controversy

I hate showboating. Joe Paterno, the learned head coach of Penn State's football team, once told a touchdown-scoring player who was hot dogging it a bit, "Act like you've done it before." Wise words.

Usain Bolt showboated before, during and after setting two world records (I haven't seen this morning's relay race, but I know the result, so I guess I should or will be saying three world records). The mind-boggling JOG through the 100 metres was followed up by possibly, just possibly, an even more incredible run past Michael Johnson's 200-metre record ... INTO a head wind.

After these two gold-medal performances, the gold-shod Jamaican danced, pranced and preened his way onto TV screens all over the world. Didn't do a lot of mingling with the minions who'd ran distant seconds and thirds (if that well). It was his moment in the sun. He acknowledged he might have overdone the mugging for the fans in the 100 metres. But for him, the important thing was winning that race and his beloved 200 metres. That was what he was there for. And looking around, he realized HE DIDN'T HAVE TO RACE HARD at the end of the 100 metres. That's right, in a ten second race, he was feeling lonely up front!

Would I have preferred Bolt do as he did in the 200 metres, run hard and see just what time he could really post? Hell, ya! I think 9.69 is otherwordly as it is. Knowing he could have clocked sub 9.60 just boggles my mind. It's the MISSED opportunity that makes me mad at Bolt, not the post-race jubilation by one of Jamaica's Runnin' Reggae Boyz.

Cuz, here's the difference between him and a jerk like Rickey Henderson. He HADN'T done it before. Nobody had. For a 21-year old, turned 22 on the night of his 200-metre victory, Bolt had NO COMPANY EVER! How do you act beyond your years to satisfy a Paterno (and an old coot like me), when you've not just made history, you've shattered it all to pieces? Not once in all the Olympiads had a man won both sprints in world record time. There had been doubles, but no double world records.

As Donovan Bailey put it, Bolt did what it took two men to do in Atlanta. Bailey's mark had been bettered since then, once this year by Bolt himself. But Johnson's mark had the faint aura of a long-lasting record.

So, when Jacques Rogge and the rest of the Lords of the Rings sniff about his behaviour while validating cheating by the Chinese in gymnastics (and, I'm betting in Taekwondo), there is only one thing to say to these old corrupt stuffed shirts.


SPORTS: I Need to Say Good-bye Old Friend

It's probably been a quarter-century since I last watched more than a minute or two of Taekwondo. Having seen three Canadian matches over the last two days, I'm guessing it'll be another fifty or so years before I see any more ... well, after these Olympics are finished.

I got my first exposure to Taekwondo at the urging of Ken Wai-Kin Cheung, an energetic young man (at the time), promoting the opening in Brampton of his first Taekwondo Studio. This was back in the late 70's. Ken Wai-Kin was already a high mucky-muck within world Taekwondo circles. He was on his way to becoming a world-certified referee, spending a fair time back in South Korea. He was also involved in both the Ontario Taekwondo Association and Taekwondo Canada. He certainly was enthusiastic.

If memory serves me correct, he TWICE took Ken Giles and myself out the dinner to ply us for information on how best to promote his sport. He was actually DOING what was best, but he wanted to know how to push buttons further. He was earnest, willing to take advice from the two of us to put his new club in the best light. But he also wanted to push the Taekwondo agenda too. Brampton, at the time, was a hotbed for judo and there were more than a few karate black belts in town too. Ken Wai-Kin wanted a piece of the publicity pie.

Which he got.

I ended up being the writer assigned the opening of the club. And I also tended to follow the kids at the studio a little more energetically than I might have otherwise. Couldn't turn down free food, afterall. It might very well have been a little bit of a conflict. But I'll tell you, Ken Wai-Kin earned that extra attention with his own efforts.

He kept pushing and eventually became a top-ranked Canadian official at multiple Olympics. He was the team leader for Canada as recently as the 2003 Pan American Games. But his name is nowhere to be seen in the info for Taekwondo Canada for this year's Olympic team. Nonetheless, with Canada's medal hopes pretty high for at least three of the competitors in Beijing, I didn't switch over to another channel when the heavily-armoured contestants popped up on the screen.

Now, some 25 years later, having been re-introduced to Taekwondo thanks to the efforts of the CBC, I'm all for throwing the sport OUT of the Olympics. The jobbing Ivett Gonda got at the hands of the judges in her opening round match was obvious to my eyes. And if my eyes deceived me, then the scoring in the sport is too arcane for my poor mind to follow. That the decision survived official protest means rot has set into the sport at a level impossible to root out. The same thing has occurred in both boxing and judo.

I'm glad Ken Wai-Kin isn't around in an official capacity in Beijing. He's probably there anyway, but not having to blast his passion with him officially in the target site, makes it easier for me to take the position I have. When the fix is in, out has to go the sport.

Good-bye Taekwondo.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

MOVIES: Stargate: Continuum

With Atlantis going the way of the occasional DVD movie (see below), I am reminded that the reason that is so, is the success of the two Stargate SG1 movies released over the last year.

Ark of Truth was the wrap-up movie, tying up the many, many loose ends left by the cancellation of Stargate SG1 after 10 years of surprisingly strong life. It repaired that "What, THAT'S the end?" feeling one got to watching the final episode of the actual TV series. I can't REALLY criticize any show with Morena Baccarin in it, but it ended a story arc in the Stargate original universe that frankly didn't appeal to me. Some good action, great special effects, the previously mentioned spectacular Ms. Baccarin, and a chance to say hello and good-bye again to the old crew was most of what it meant to me.

Now Continuum, released last month, was a different kettle of fish. The movie starts pleasingly with the SG1 team, with Colonel Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) along for the ride, as they take Ba'al off to his execution. Ba'al, played with mirthful malevolence by Cliff Simon, doesn't go quietly. Indeed, due to some forethought, he succeeds in freeing himself and wiping most of the team out of existence. Makes for a killer out at the first break, when they eventually put this thing on TV.

Turns out, clever old Ba'al, sent a team back in time, to Earth's history and contrived to prevent the Stargate itself from reaching American shores. That changes things quite dramatically. When the remaining members of the team use a gate to get back to familiar territory, they don't arrive deep in the bowels of a Rockies mountain. Nope. The gate is inside a soon-to-sink ship in the Arctic, having been frozen there for most of sixty years. They escape from the fire into the freezer and mount a doomed trek to civilization. Things look dim until O'Neill, albeit not THEIR O'Neill, arrives in a nuclear sub to save their hides.

Yes, we have that hoary old cliche, the parallel universe to explore, hoping to find their own way back to their timeline. There ARE changes, and frankly, they don't do much hero-ing for quite some time. The best part of the movie is when they get read the riot act by the new timeline's General Landry (Beau Bridges), who lets them know he's fully aware that they plan to destroy the timeline he and 300 million or so Americans live in. Let alone the rest of the populous. Makes the label mass-murderer seem insignificant somehow. If the Goa'uld fleet hadn't arrive to do the very same honours anyway, he wouldn't be letting them loose to try and change history yet again. It's a great response to a familiar situation where everyone seems so willing to sacrifice millions of lives. Refreshing.

At any rate, things work out in the end. Some of the twists and turns tie up very neatly. People get a chance to play a little outside of norm for their characters and enjoy it immensely. None more so than Claudia Black. But everybody's there and it ends up being a really enjoyable hour and a half.

Liked this movie a lot. Hope it continues to auger well for the series of DVD releases that Stargate has devolved into.

One last thing. This was Don D. Davis's last work, as the genial General George Hammond survived the movie, but lost his life to cancer after filming was finished. He will be missed.

TV: Atlantis Sunk!

I'm all in a funk on the news that Stargate Atlantis will not be renewed for a sixth season. Instead, it will join parent Stargate SG1 as a series of occasional straight-to-DVD movies. That's too bad.

Stargate, the phenomena, has always puzzled me. When I heard it was going to become a TV series, I opined widely and loudly, that they couldn't last a year. The original series went 10 years. I was almost as trepidatious about the debut of Atlantis five years ago. Seeing the city rise out of the ocean is one of my favourite TV moments. I was sold.

Over the years, I think I've enjoyed Atlantis more than SG1 when it was running side-by-side. It might not have been as good as SG1 at it's prime, but it was better than the last couple of years when Richard Dean Anderson abdicated for Ben Browder. Not that Browder and Claudia Black, the Farscape escapees were bad, but they just didn't have what Anderson brought to SG1 and what Joe Flanigan brought to Atlantis, the timely quip that echoed what the audience was thinking.

However, it was apparent that the end was nigh for Atlantis. Already, talk of Jason Mamoa's departure at season's end had hit the internet. Although not an original, Mamoa had been that hulking power presence that made the away team of Atlantean explorers complete. He was yin to the yang of Dr. Rodney McKay, played with brilliant obsequiousness by Canadian David Hewlett. Brains and brawn needed beauty, and you couldn't ask for more than Rachel Luttrell. Add in Flanigan and a host of commanding officers and civilians to rail against, and you had the perfect action serial. And what was really too bad, was the fact that Robert Picardo had already established that his Richard Woolsey was going to be a most-interesting change of pace as the new chief administrator.

Darn it! The more I reminisce, the more I realize I'll be the first in line when they issue the first of what I hope will be many straight-to-DVD movies.

SOFTWARE: The BULK of the Problem

I don't think much of the way, my ISP, handles my email. They pre-pend [BULK] to the subject header of just about every email sent my way. For a time, I trusted them to get rid of the spam before it arrived, until I discovered I wasn't getting some [important] emails. They were being deleted before I even had a chance to sick my multi-levels of spam-filtering on them.

To be honest, I got crabby over that.

It seems, rogers' spam filters thought a WHOLE LOT of stuff was spam that wasn't. That 'smack em all and let god (Ted Rogers) sort it all out' approach hurt more than it helped. For example, it nailed all newsletters as spam. For another example, the bad one, it treated back-and-forth threads, with multiple re: and fwd: indicators in the header as spam. It treated forwarded comments from this blog as spam. I know there is a joke in there, but I'm going to leave it at that.

So, I told rogers to stop 'protecting' me and let me do my own spam filtering. I have three sort-of active accounts going at rogers, plus two at gmail. Then there's the hidden five other ones at rogers that I use internally for a variety of things. Because I don't share them, I never get any spam in them ... excepting rogers' own internal spam to me. Oh, well.

NOW, HERE'S THE REASON you've kept reading this dreadfully dull dirge this far. IF you use rogers or your ISP similarly mass-mangles email headers for you, here is a simple filter that will result in 90-95 per cent of the spam you get, getting shuttled off to trash before you even see it. It comes with some warnings, so don't use if you have ANY questions. By the way, I assume the magic nasty work for the ISP is [BULK]. It might be something else. From here on, wherever you see [BULK], just substitute your won pejorative.

If you use EUDORA:

Go to Tools|Filters and get rid of most of the filters you have been using to try to divert spam from your inbox to the trash before you have to look at it, let alone deal with it. NOW, click on the NEW button to start a new filter. Change the Header to be Subject:. Leave the contains box alone. Then type [BULK] into the field beside Contains. Next, change the second condition field to 'and' and the second Header box to From:. Change Contains to 'doesn't intersect address book' and pick <> from the selection of address books offered. Finally, in action, change it to Transfer To, and when the button appears, click it and choose trash. Exit out of the filters screen and you have instant wisdom at hand.

For Thunderbird:

Click Tools|Message Filters to get to the Filter entry screen. Click the New Button and type in your filter's name. I suggest 'Get rid of [BULK] bleeeeep.' Now DOT the first condition to March ALL of the following. Leave Subject and Contains alone, and type in [BULK] in the third box. Now, click the little PLUS SIGN button to add a second condition. Change this line's Subject to From. Change Contains to "isn't in my address book." Finally, leave the default selection of Personal Address Book alone. Down in the Perform these actions area, leave Move Message To alone and change the offered destination to TRASH. Click OK.

For Outlook and any of its relatives:

Don't know. If you're still using it, you're missing a good reason to switch to one of the two preceding programs.

Why this works? Obviously, since most of your email gets tabbed as [BULK], most of your email will trip the first condition. Righteously. However, you don't want to lose those threaded emailed comings and goings. Thus, the second condition. If the sender isn't IN your address book, it's highly likely that you're probably going to think this email is spam.

What happens if it's a cold call, contacting your for business? Unlikely that rogers will originally tag it [BULK], since it's a one-off. What if it's a continued correspondence with somebody new, not yet in the address book? Well, you better put the new contact in the address book pronto. And while you're there, put in any newsletters you've subscribed to in the last little while.

By the way, you CAN cheat a little and use a variation on your name for the newsletter. Say your first initial and your middle name. THEN, create a filter to push off any responses using THAT name in the header and put that filter AHEAD of the [BULK] filter. Right now, my [BULK] filter is fourth, behind bridge, roto and delphi filters that send emails I get with those headers to various folders before being swallowed up by the all-encompassing clean-up filter.

In Conclusion:

If you aren't getting substantial spam (possibly because you do not actually HAVE an email account), or leaving spam-handling to gmail or yahoo or whatever, or aren't using an ISP that pre-scans your email, then NEVER MIND. Otherwise, give this little one-size-fits-all filter a try. Check your trash with a quick over-glance. You might want to divert to JUNK rather than TRASH if you feel a little nervous. But get rid or your junk AND your trash every now and then. It mounts up pretty quickly.

TV: Real Life Intrudes

Tonight's closing moments of Ron MacLean's segment moderating the Olympics broadcast on CBC ended dreadfully. MacLean's mother had passed away earlier in the day. He informed the viewers that he was signing off tonight, not just for the evening, but to fly back to Oakville to be with family and friends at this most terrible moment of anybody's life, the death of a parent (or a child).

MacLean handled the situation with the class that has become his trademark. He smiled, cheered on the folks around him undoubtedly feeling sad over the news, and lauded Scott Russell as his replacement over the next few days.

I hope never to have this happen to me. My parents have instructions to outlive me. But if it does happen, I hope, fervently, that I will handle the situation with some portion of the poise and professionalism MacLean demonstrated tonight.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SPORTS: Two Canucks Doin' Their Best

And the best of Elliotte Friedman and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep is pretty good.

First, let me praise Friedman, the best Canadian sports broadcaster since Brian Williams was at the top of his game. Friedman is close to inheriting the mantle of the man who takes sports seriously and is willing to ask the tough question. Ron MacLean has a higher profile. He does sit at the right hand of God, errrr, Donald S. Cherry, afterall. But MacLean's more entertainer than penetrating interviewer. For me, Friedman is nearing the top of the food chain when it comes to Canadian sports broadcasting. He'll be the man to trust, in five years, if not already.

He also writes an irregular column called From the Pressbox. And the most recent installment of the column is all about how hard it is NOT to cheer in the pressbox, or even in the stands, if caught hob-nobbing with the masses. He admits he's almost done it once, and came perilously close to doing it again Monday night. The cause celebre?

The astonishing bronze medal won by Priscilla Lopes-Schliep in the women's 100-metre hurdles in Beijing.

I admit that in my dotage (and the fact I'm not a sports reporter anymore), I haven't followed track and field as assiduously as I once did. But I still knew Canada's medal hopes went out the door when Perdita Felicien, a glorious creature in her own right, couldn't overcome health problems to compete in Beijing. Even a finals appearance was unlikely with the perpetual runner-up Angela Whyte also unhealthy. I KNEW Lopes-Schliep was there to carry the colours, but didn't for a second believe that she had a chance at MAKING THE FINAL.

Wrong I was. There she was in lane 8 awaiting the starter's pistol. More muscular along her shoulders and maybe a little less gazelle-like than her competition, Lopes-Schliep sort of stood out. At first sight, my first impression was, "SHE'S in the final?!?" Looks can be SOOOOO deceiving.

Lopes-Schliep's good friend, the American hurdling star Lolo Jones, broke to the front and was crusing to the gold medal. Then, with as much suddeness as befell Felicien an Olympiads ago, Jones' whole universe shattered as she clipped the final hurdle. That struck her from the victory roll, affected runners on either side of her and let five runners suddenly joust for two medals and three bad memories of what might have been. The timers had all five within two one-hundredths of a second. Two of them, the Australian girl, and Lopes-Schliep, were deemed one fingernail faster than the others in the group. Suddenly, the girl who was third in Canada was third in the whole wide world.

I saw an interview with Lopes-Schliep last night with MacLean. She cleans up awfully well. She's warm, bubbly, confident and anybody with half a heart must be totally over the moon that this lady has garnered the recognition that a medal will bring her.

Friedman's right. This is one performance worth standing up and applauding. Even if you're a (lapsed) journalist.

Monday, August 18, 2008

SPOTS: Insane Usain

Fourty years ago, I watched ABC announcers go wild as Bob Beamon did the impossible and soared into history as the surprise winner of the Men's Long Jump at the Olympics in Mexico City. The otherwise little-known Beamon never came close before or since that one special moment in time. He bettered the existing record by an 'impossible' amount. (I read the Sports Illustrated article later that said just that)

Since then, better training, equipment and the continued general growth in mankind, has allowed Beamon's mark to be met and bettered. That doesn't take away that one night of perfection when he showed the future of mankind.

On the weekend, I had the exact same feeling. I never wondered if Beamon was on drugs when he made his leap into history. And I have to confess, I wonder about Usain Bolt because, well, history has taught us to be wary of the 'Fastest Man in the World.' The night Ben Johnson was caught in Seoul, I believe there wasn't a clean athlete in the final. Ben, the trusting soul that he is, was the only one to get caught that night.

That said, if Bolt truly ran unaided by chemical means, that the performance he put on brought back the exact same chills that watching Beamon produced. Sure he diminished the performance by not trying to the end. Sure he slopped away the start, which might have made him a tenth of a second faster. But be ran a 9.69 fergawdsakes! The question to be asked, surely at the end of a paycheque from some rich Arab sheikh, is just how fast this next-generation kid can run? Certainly he had 9.65 within his grasp just by running through to the finish line. 9.60 without a sloppy start and finish. Does he actually have it within him to run 9.50? Lower?

Bolt is 21. Just a colt. He just started to run the race this year for some training for the race he usually runs, the 200 metres. He has set world records in the event TWICE this year. And he's doing it to pass away the time.

I know Michael Phelps put on a week-long show, setting more world records than any mere mortal should be able to. But those swim suits make me think Bolt's bolt down the backstretch takes the cake for gob-smacking, jaw-dropping moment of the Games.

SOFTWARE: That Icon Bugs Me!

A little tip if you ever run into the following situation: The Volume Control icon in my Windows XP system tray turned into the same icon as the one for my current anti-virus program of choice, Avast!.

I tried right-clicking and fiddling with both Volume Control (in disguise) and Avast!. Trust me, nothing worked. I let the situation fester for a couple of days. Then I just reached the limit of patience (a heretofore unmeasurably small amount) and went into the Control Panel and started up the Sound and Audio Devices applet. I unchecked the "Place volume icon in the taskbar" and clicked APPLY. Suddenly, I only had one Avast spinning blue ball. Then I re-checked the checkbox and pressed OK.

Problem solved. Itch scratched. Only took three days to think of it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

BOOKS: Robots Have No Tails - Henry Kuttner

Going through a recent issue of Locus, I noticed that next spring will see a paperback reprint of a book I have long cherished. Henry Kuttner's collection of Gallegher tales called Robots Have No Tails, might be as funny a science fiction book as has ever been published.

A little publication history. The book originally was published in 1952 or thereabouts. It was also by-lined at that time by Lewis Padgett, which was a pseudonym used by Kuttner, sometimes with, and sometimes without, the aid of writer wife C.L. Moore. The edition I first came across last century was a 1969 reprint, which credited Kuttner, although it's apparent Moore had some input into at least some of the five stories in the book. These are all somewhat long short stories, nearly novella length fun and frivolity.

Galloway Gallegher was a genius. Actually, that's partially a lie. Gallegher's sub-conscious was a genius. A demented genius, amoral to the extreme. And the only way to get through to the genius was for Gallegher to get truly plastered, a job Gallegher was always way too willing to do. That part, with today's political correctness about drinking (and I am a teetotaler myself, so I COULD be disturbed, but I am not) will offend some readers. You've been forewarned. Yet the drunkenness is so completely over the top as to be laughable. Very, very laughable.

While in the state of drunken bliss, Gallegher can "start with a twist of wire, a few batteries, and a button hook, and before he finished, he might contrive a new type of refrigerating unit." The sole issue resulting from his drunken excesses of success, is that the sober Gallegher isn't much brighter than the average Joe off the street. Most times, he looks at what the smart-ass inside of him invented and has not the tiniest little clue as to what it does.

That's part of the charm of the stories. Gallegher gets into a pickle his sub-conscious solves. Then he has to approach inebriation close enough to get a tad smarter, but still not enough in the sack not to remember the explanation for the cure that's staring him in the face. Tends to be delicate. And hilarious. And inventive. More than a half-century later.

I went looking for my copy of the book and couldn't find it. That tends to happen in my over-flowing library. But I DID latch onto a copy of The Best of Henry Kuttner. A seventies reprint of the 1965 original. I should mention here that Kuttner died in the late 50's, having already given up writing science fiction, which he was amongst the masters of in the preceding two decades. The Best of book only features one Gallegher tale, the original (I think), Proud Robot.

In it, Gallegher wakes up from his latest binge to find Joe, the impossibly vain robot of the title, preening into a mirror. Genius-Gallegher invented him to solve a problem with the TV industry where the number two company has patented a new Magna process to expand TV so that it will play in flawless high-definition format in theatres, long abandoned after TV's advent into the home had killed off the movie industry (well, he got THAT one wrong). What's worse, the louts for the suddenly dominant number two company, have been stealing from the good guys, the industry leaders, who pay and treat talent well and had assumed the leadership on merit. Patent law and a corrupt judge or two has put the good guys into dire straights. Unless Gallegher invents a Magna rival that isn't patent-breaking, the bad guys will win.

Well, you KNOW the bad guys won't win. This WAS the day of black hats and white hats. Joe, despite all appearances, DOES have a talent or two. I invite you to solve the problem along with Gallegher the UnDrunk. I'd forgotten the solution in the 30 years or so since I first read the story. Was a true pleasure as I realized just how the bad guys were going to get undone. A real grin.

In Robots Have No Tails, there's four more just like that one. If you can't wait and can't dig up a copy of any earlier edition DO try out the Best of book, which is much more universally available.

And if you do, check out the lead-off story, Or Else. A re-write of a Mexican stand-off, ACTUALLY using Mexicans as stars, this story could have been re-written for today's world, with Sunnis and Shiites playing the Mexican roles. The USA would be the alien peacemaker who lands in the middle of a firefight between two Mexicans, each desperately trying to gain dominion of the only small water spring in their part of the Sonora desert. The tale is as true today as it was 60 years ago when Kuttner (and maybe Moore) first wrote it.

Sure, the stories are dated and are possibly a little politically incorrect. But this IS classic science fiction. I can't recommend either book more highly.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

SPORTS: I Wish ...

For Christmas this year, I wish for a dose of reality to hit Manny Ramirez right in the pocket-book. I need all of the GM's in major league baseball to simultaneously achieve intelligence and Barry Bonds Ramirez and his grubby little agent, Scott Boras.

Ramirez is a hall-of-fame talent most of the time and is such a leech on a ball club's soul, that nary a player bleated anything when the Boston Red Sox traded Ramirez PLUS two decent minor leaguers to acquire piece of mind ... and Jason Bay. And that, despite being in quite a tussle to make the playoffs.

Just how big a jerk do you have to be to be addition by subtraction? When at your best, you're first ballot Hall of Fame talent! Forget adding Boras to the list of crimes against baseball that Ramirez is about to commit, how about committing the ultimate sin in pro sports...intentionally jaking.

Ramirez didn't want to settle for 20 million bucks in each of the next two years. His agent flea kept whispering in his ear, "Rodriguez money. Maybe more. Maybe ... gasp ... 30 million a year!" He could not push his way out of town, as he did to the senior citizen traveling secretary of the team. He couldn't mutter and misspeak his way out. He finally quit playing, literally when the other team threw good pitchers, and figuratively as well. Even his staunchest supporters recognized him for what he was, a treacherously self-interested twit who was better off playing elsewhere.

I have no doubt that Ramirez will get big bucks this winter. But it would make me happy enough to abstain ALL OTHER CHRISTMAS PRESENTS if he was forced to sign a contract for merely $19,999,999.99 a year. Less would be good too. Really good. Would keep me happy until my birthday NEXT summer. But I'd except that symbolic penny with gratitude and yuletide tidings to all that made it possible.

Or even better, him getting the REAL Bonds treatment.

SPORTS: Break A Leg, Brett

Was a fan of Brett Favre. Not any more. Hope he gets plenty mashed in New York. He might then appreciate how good he had it in Green Bay, afterall.

The Favre story was a pretty good one. NOT a lifetime Packer (he DID start down in Atlanta), he nevertheless cemented a Hall-of-Fame career in cheese country. He went out on a high note, leading the Packers to an unexpected National Conference championship game, before falling, in overtime, to the eventual Super Bowl champs, the New York Giants. He held a tearful retirement presser and filed his papers with the NFL.

Green Bay management tried to talk him out of retirement. They'd gotten used to doing it the last couple of years. They kept drafting quarterbacks in case Favre was serious. This time he was. He waffled a bit, but claimed his wife put a kibosh on it.

So, having twice, once before and once after, to try and convince Brett he had a year (or two) still to play, Green Bay set up their off-season agenda. Using money freed up by not having Favre taking up a sizable percentage of the salary cap, Green Bay strengthened other positions and drafted another QB, to start off the post-Favre era. The money was spent. Spring training camp came and went.

Then, Favre decided, wife-be-damned, he wanted to play. And since the first phone call to Green Bay didn't result in cartwheels about the change in heart, version umptymillion, he decided to take offence and demand that Green Bay release him so that he could play anywhere his little brain desired (I can't say little heart, because we all know how big-hearted he is). And there's where he lost me.

Green Bay acted in good faith. They truly believed they'd put Favre's big contract behind them. They spent (hopefully) wisely the money previous allotted to Favre. No, there was no money in the till to put that contract BACK on the books. Now, if Favre, who's made a TON of money from Green Bay over the years, had offered to restructure to play for his equivalent of peanuts, he could have been welcomed back. But eo accommodate his coming back, Green Bay would have had to cut and/or restructure contracts. I doubt it would have been possible. Favre COULD have said I'll play for the minimum. But he didn't.

He not only wanted to play, he wanted his multi-millions too. Which he COULD have had, had he decided to return before Green Bay set up its post-Favre plans.

And putting the stake through the hearts of those who'd paid him so well over the years, he didn't want a trade, he wanted to pick his own new uniform. And those black beauties in Chicago or the purple pants in Minnesota looked awfully good to him. It's one thing NOT to have Favre in the line-up. It's another thing to deliver him, FOR FREE, to one of those other teams in the competitive division Green Bay resides in.

No way they were going to let Favre say Thanks for All the Years, by helping trying to beat the Pack!

All of this is obvious to anyone who doesn't have a vested interest in the fortunes of the Packers, Bears or Vikings. I'm sorry. You CAN change your mind. But then you have to honour the contract your took into retirement. And that doesn't make you a free agent because management is sick and tired of your waffling and wants to get on with their organizational lives.

And speaking of waffling, didn't Favre seriously negotiate a 20 million bribe to STAY retired? Sort of impacts on the belief he wants to come back some, doesn't it. Others will see his refusal to take the bribe as something pure and praise-worthy. That the same package will be there for him upon his REAL retirement means it's hollow praise.

Athletes frequently live in a cocoon. It's almost a metaphor for a quarterback's pass protection, isn't it? Here's hoping Favre gets a knock in the head and wakes up to the reality that he's lost his beloved status.

Break a leg Brett. I really, really mean it.

TV: Live Is A Relative Term

Always interesting to watch LIVE events being broadcasted simultaneously by the CBC and NBC. Since I have two TVs turned on and watching both, I can tell you LIVE is a concept that needs redefining at both networks.

NBC, of course, believes in showing as little LIVE from an Olympics as a crackerjack tape editing team can manage. Can't turn out heart-jerkers and thrills if you don't have the completed script in hand. On the other hand, some events require LIVE broadcasting. And so far, I can watch it LIVE on CBC about seven seconds before I see it on NBC. It's actually funny.

The CBC has it's own, somewhat diminishing, problem with the LIVE screen bug. Frequently early, but less and less since the days have gone by, that little LIVE bug is a total lie. But they've been called on it and are doing it less. The CBC still puts NBC to shame, but it can do better.

The preceding was a tape-delayed presentation of the GM Media blogging system.

SPORTS: Missed It by That Much!

Liar, liars, bathing suits on fire.

Michael Phelps will win his record-setting eighth gold medal tonight. Or will he? Record-tying seventh for sure. But I still don't think he won that seventh one last night. Didn't think it watching it live. And didn't think it after replays.

And the laughable part? The video replies "conclusively show" that he did touch out Milorad Cavic (a fellow Yank wearing Serbian colours). That's baloney. No one can see one one-hundredth of a second's difference on video tape. No one. The machine came back with the tale that Phelps won. But if that is really true, then my eyes are betraying me in new and different ways.

Do I believe it's possible that Phelps won? Yes. Do I think he won? Possibly. Am I sure he won? Not till my dying day. And yes, machines often spit out interesting stories. I'm a computer programmer.

If the furor that mushroomed and then imploded with equal swiftness hadn't been resolved to everybody's complete satisfaction, we would be taking about this for some time. I'm betting young Mr. Cavic will be able to cash in on his 59 seconds of fame. If he already hasn't.

Should make conspiracy fodder for years.

SPORTS: Sorry for What, Exactly?

You've seen the pictures of the Spanish national men's basketball team proving you can be collectively stupid. They are using their fingers to 'slant there eyes' as a way of saying we're going to China for the Olympics.

The furor since, bad as it is, will quiet down before erupting in the opening week of the NBA season. That's when the players who play IN the NBA will find that those that are quick to offend, carry long memories. Protests are guaranteed here in Toronto, where Jose Calderon will be asked to apologize again. In L.A., Pau Gasol will have to do the same (and yes, my first reaction to what I was going to write was 'kowtow'). His brother Marc might escape too much scrutiny in Memphis, more for not being a well-known star, than for not being complicit.

It all comes down to the apology. Only one of which I have read. It comes from Calderon's own blog. I went to look it up again today, and couldn't find it. But the gist of the apology falls into one of the three categories of apologies.

The first apology, uttered by twits like The West Coast Smirk of the Lakers, is the lawyer-written apology. It's insincere and legally-c0nstructed and frequently written by said lawyers. Phony as a three-dollar bill.

The third apology is the heart-felt, I'm guilty and sorry beyond all belief, mea culpa. It's usually uttered by people who understand they've done wrong and are genuinely sorry for what has happened, even if it isn't all their fault. Takes these kind of people a long time to get over whatever (frequently minor) transgression they've made.

Calderon's falls into the second category. The apology for YOU, the other party, taking offence at something that was not meant to offend. "Look I didn't mean to offend, but since you ARE offended, I apologize," is the usual form of the apology. The issuer of these kind of apologies are usually honestly surprised that what they did offended others. And the apology is close, real close to being heartfelt. But there's a little bit (or sometimes a bigger bit), that says, Jeez, gimme a break. It's not like I insulted your mother or punched you in the nose.

I have, on occasion, used terms that people COULD take offence to. I HAVE told a Newfie joke or two in my time, claiming half-Newfie parentage as my defence. It's always been considered allowable to make dumb jokes about your own ethnic heritage. Or should it be? I know one resident of the island didn't particularly care to be labeled stupid and told me so. I stopped telling Newfie jokes.

Calderon strikes me as an exemplary young man. He's the kind of guy you want your daughter to bring home. And it's not because he's making millions playing roundball. He's a gentleman who just happens to have participated in a group mind melt. Having made a type two apology, he's going to find he's going to have to do it over again.

And again, and again.

SPORTS: Time to Panic

It's a script the Toronto Argo have made reruns of for the last few years. Stumbling out of the gate, the Argos turn it on after Labour Day and end up with a decent chance at going all the way to the Grey Cup. It was hard to panic when the eternal optimist, Pinball Clemons, was out there telling everybody everything was not only fine, but watch us win five of the next seven and challenge for first place!

And, you know, he pulled it off. More than a few times. No need for a re-write.

But times are a changing. Rich Stubler is now starring as Pinball. And this edition of the Toronto Argos don't have something Clemons' teams had--a shutdown defence run by Stubler.

Nothing is functioning at acceptable levels for these Toronto Argos. The defence has been bad in total, horrid against the run. The top-ranked pass defence is one of those mirages, created whole cloth out of the absence of the need for the other teams to pass. It's been a poor-tackling, collective failure. And at the same time, it's operating better than the offence.

League MVP Kerry Joseph has played, by my count, five good quarters this year. TOTAL! Four came in one game. I've been stumping for Mike Bishop to get his chance again. And Stubler heard my rumblings from all the way out here in the suburbs. Bishop played the second half of a game Toronto trailed 11-7 at the half. And his teammates showed an immediate desire to return to Joseph by dropping just about any pass that was near them. Bishop responded by throwing a pass to a Montreal player or two and just plain over-throwing everything and everybody the rest of the time. In essence, he was as bad as Joseph, with more receiver drops than I thought possible.

Injuries, that Toronto Blue Jay excuse on a repeating loop, will be blamed for a failed corps of receivers forced to resort to using fourth quarterback Reggie McNeal as a pass catcher. Problem is, he's been as good, if not better, than the rest of the receivers he's played with the last two weeks. If NOBODY is going to catch the ball, then let Bishop start. At least he'll throw to Arland Bruce III. Joseph won't. Or maybe switch McNeal and either of the two others. How in the world can he be any worse?

And do something about special teams' penalties. The Argos were penalized three times for ZERO yards in the first half last night. The Als declined each time, because their gain was better than the penalty!

Stubler isn't exactly a motivational speaker in public. He inspired a defence that dominated until this year. That largely returning defence either got old real quick (probably true) or wants him to take over again (who knows) or both. But the only way we'll find out if Stubler CAN do something with his defensive soldiers is to give him a chance and get back Clemons for a third stint on the sidelines.

Otherwise, there isn't much hope for a post-Labour Day revival along the lines of the Argo Bounce. Not this year.

SPORTS: Despicable Be Thy Name

JP Ricciardi, praised in the post below, is a lousy GM. He's a lying SOB and his work visa for Canada is a complete and utter mistake. If he's still the GM on opening day 2009 for the Toronto Blue Jays, I will not watch a single game again until he's no longer employed and has been deported back to the cesspool he came from.

Are we clear where we stand on this idiot?

The focus of my venom is sitting at home today, happily beaming about his part in increasing the American chances at a gold medal in baseball at the Beijing Olympics. His callous call-up of a Canadian Olympic team pitcher, one of the better ones, was purely to provide a very, very, very slight improvement in the American chances. Afterall, what were the chances the Yanks would need help in finishing ahead of Canada?

About the same chance that Scott Richmond would have been a better choice to throw into a game Canada led 4-2 against the USA, instead of the trio of washed-up or never-were pitchers Canadian manager Terry Puhl had on his beck and call. Richmond, a decent AAA pitcher and maybe a borderline big league bullpen member, might have been able to stave off the American offence. But he was sitting cooling his heels in Toronto, bound the next day for Syracuse, when Puhl and Canada needed him most.

The smug SOB in the Toronto GM chair COULD have let Richmond play for Canada. He could have even played the good guy role in announcing that upon Richmond's return from Beijing, he would be a September call-up. Afterall, it wasn't like anybody, beyond the peabrains employed to believe so, actually thought Toronto was still in a playoff race. No, Ricciardi, who DID play a part in picking the USA team, had one more patriotic duty. He had to stab his 'adopted' country through the heart for no better reason than that he could. I hope he chokes on his own hubris.

Poor Richmond has played the good soldier. He maintained he was thrilled to make his big league debut (now, rather than later). And there were no guarantees that he'd do well in China. He appreciated a chance to make the Big Show at the advanced age of 28. He wished his 'former' teammates well. He must have been sick to his stomach watching the Canada-USA game, while packing to return to the minor leagues. His two-week call-up might very well be his lasting memory of the spotlight. Three so-so starts to balance against the chance of a lifetime.

There will be no baseball in the 2012 Olympics. He'll never get a chance again to tug on a Canadian Olympic jersey. That's what his 'GM' cost him.

Ricciardi has to go. End of post.

SPORTS: If You Can't Say Something Nice ...

Going to end this little absent spell with a splash. Starting this lot off with something nice about JP Ricciardi. Yes, I know. It's unbelievable. But bear with me.

He signed Scott Downs to a three-year contract. That's a good thing. Better than the hopes for Scott Rolen and the meagre don't-hate-it signings of Brad Wilkerson and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Mench, there is nothing wrong with the Downs signing. Very good.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

TV: I'm Already Tired!

Trying to push through three months of programming changes in 13 days was idiotic and I bear responsibility for saying yes to it. Still, no man can program in a cone of silence. So, the Olympics play in the background.

And after, what, 48 hours, I can honestly say I am really, really sick of some of those Olympic commercials.

There's a couple I like. A lot. The Wonderbread tots dressed up as athletes is wonderful, even after multiple viewings. I turn around for that one. The Bell ads don't get old until about the fourth time you see them. So they're back to being awful background noise. But I look forward to new ones.

And before I turn off this de facto notice that I'm still alive, I have to tell you Americans (as IF anybody is actually reading this!), you should sue NBC for fraud. NBC is awful, compared to the around-the-clock top-notch job CBC is doing up here. It'd be a scandal if the populace actually cared about most of the Olympic sports outside of basketball.

Friday, August 01, 2008

BOOKS: Everywhere That Mary Went - Lisa Scottoline

I don't understand how anybody could enjoy Torture Porn filth like the "Saw" series. Stalker Porn (think of any of several Jennifer Lopez movies) only mystifies me slightly less. How can anybody derive enjoyment from reading about or watching somebody's terror is beyond me. Needless to say, these are two genres I don't indulge much reading in.

Frankly, Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline skates a little too close to the Stalker Porn cesspool than I would like. I needed something earthly and earthy after the Samurai Girls fantasies and the outright SF of Jack Campbell and Tanya Huff last week. So, I went a little deeper into the reading pool and came up with an early Scottoline work, the progenitor of her Rosato and Associates books. It's 15 years old, but was re-released in paperback just at the start of this century.

Several times, I just about gave up the book, feeling very uneasy about the goings on around young, widowed lawyer Mary DiNunzio. She lost her husband to an unsolved hit-and-run a year before the book starts. She's getting notes, hangup phone calls and the occasional glimpse of big ominous car. Her saving grace is a best friend, who's another lawyer at her firm, and her legal secretary, a gay man who's been with her for all eight years there.

Stressed out over the impending decision that will make her a partner or a pariah, DiNunzio can't effectively deal with the stalker, for fear of losing needed votes to become partner. Then, the secretary is killed by that ominous car in yet another hit-and-run death. Could these two deaths be linked? Is somebody killing the men in her life? DiNunzio comes a hair's breath from falling completely apart. She retreats to her traditional Italian family, which includes a twin sister, who's a nun in a convent. DiNunzio is a lapsed Catholic and frankly feels too much like a lost little lamb most of the time.

It was about the time that the overly foul-mouthed DiNunzio confronts her religious background and visits her sequestered sister, that I resolved to finish the book. Like DiNunzio deciding to fight the battle straight on, I saw hope at the end of the tunnel. Although DiNunzio does nothing directly to reveal the stalker's identity, there's an effective ending sequence to the book, with the stalker getting justice in an agreeable way. The last page of the book is a spirit-lifter.

Depending on your ability to handle Stalker Porn, even as well done as this, you have my recommendation to read it.