Thursday, December 17, 2009

LIFE: Don't Come A-Knockin' On My Front Door

It's that time of the year, where even a Grinch like me attracts visitors. Visitors I want. And Visitors I don't want. Dead of summer, start of winter. Every year. About a month ago, I had, in order, a wandering real estate would-be mogul, a gas salesperson and our friendly friends of the Church of Latter Day Saints. I was somewhat sympathetic to the latter, although I sent them on the way as quickly as possible, was polite to the first guy and slammed the door on the insistent lady in the middle.
Then I made up this sign. Since then, I have had three people ask for copies. It isn't perfect, but it gets my sentiments over pretty well. Do with it as you will.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SPORTS: Is Double-A Going to Remember December Fondly?

Alex Anthopoulos certainly felt sick at the Winter Baseball Meetings. He was contending with a cold AND with the need to give Roy Halladay the Christmas present of a new home address. He left Indianapolis early and all indications were that Doc was going to have to wait until the new year for moving instructions. HE wanted to go to Philly, but the Phillies seemed to have a case of the shorts, both in money and in willingness to empty out the rest of a pretty good prospects holdings.

So, it had to come as a bit of a surprise Monday when the news broke. Halladay to the Phillies, "Almost World Series Hero" Cliff Lee to the Mariners and some prospects to both Toronto and Philadelphia. A LOT of names were bandied about. In fact, a fourth team joined the group hug. Oakland wanted one of the former Philly farmhands. A four-team trade is a pretty good way to break your maiden, although, ultimately, if the trade is as has been speculated for the last 18 hours or so, it's actually a series of three trades. Still, an interesting start. And isn't that an easy segue into the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times!"

The apparent haul for the Jays stands at uber pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, who's dad Doug toiled for years in the majors, catching prospect Travis D'Arnaud and the peripatetic Brett Wallace, a third baseman, who's a bat wanting some place to hide on the field. First base according to some, no place according to others. A DH in everybody's opinion.

Wallace must share some sympathy with Michael Taylor, the Philadelphia prospect who didn't even cross the border on his way to Oakland. While Taylor's doing his three teams in a single day thing, Wallace did his in less than six months. He originally went to Oakland this past summer in the Matt Holliday deal with St. Louis. Hmmmm, Holliday and Halladay together at last!

Did Double-A get enough for Halladay.? He could have kept Doc, given him 15+M this season to win a lot, tutor his young charges for one more year and then show up in Boston or New York at Christmas, with a freshly signed four-year commitment to beat the Blue Jays about five times a year for the length of the contract. Toronto would get a late first-round draft pick and an extra one between the first two rounds in the 2011 Summer Draft. OR he could save about nine million smackers right now, get the three players he got and forego the anguish over drafting, then signing, then hoping the draftees make an impact before he's shown the door as GM. Hmmm, door number two appears a WHOLE lot more appealing, considering the stock scouts have in the newly-minted Blue Jays.

Drabek might see September in Toronto. My bet is that he comes up mid 2011 for a long stay in Toronto. He's about a year away from arm surgery now, and whatever arm injury-itis that's been floating around town these last three years might need another season to dissipate. He MIGHT be good enough to force his way onto the big league roster earlier than that, but I believe the Blue Jays will be careful with him. Luke Schenn anyone? (For non-puckheads, Schenn is the young defenceman that is looking clueless in his sophomore season with the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs. It's been a historical trend with the Leafs to rush defense prospects to the big league ... almost always being a mistake to do so).

D'Arnaud is the mystery man. I've heard glowing stories and some not-so-glowing stories about him. The Blue Jays signed THREE catchers last week and have (supposedly) top prospects at AAA and AA. So, a catcher at A ball has to be something really special, right? Especially since the Phillies offered either relief pitcher Phillipe Aumont or OF Tyson Gillies to replace him in the deal. Both the former Mariners are Canucks. Aumont has already pitched in the majors AND in the World Baseball Classic where he showed potential closer stuff against the Americans. Gillies has a distinct Juan Pierre rep, but with a better glove. And that's something the Blue Jays need, given their absolute poverty in terms of outfield prospects. But no, Double-A wanted D'Arnaud. It has to be a scout thing, because D'Arnaud's numbers don't back up the claim by more than one wag that he might be the best of the three prospects!

And that includes former top draft pick Wallace, who now presents problems, as well as possibilities. If Wallace is to get onto the field, it has to be at 1B. He can also DH. But DH is something the Blue Jays don't have to offer right now. Adam Lind won the Silver Slugger award at the spot last year. He's a left fielder they were GOING to turn into a first-baseman. That's because LF is the only spot you want to see Travis Snider play 140 games in. He's barely adequate in LF and a no-hoper in right. And there's the one-year, 7M contract-owning Lyle Overbay holding down first base, being the best actual defender of the lot. What to do, what to do? There was some hope of sending him to the National League for a catcher. Seattle were supposedly interested in the Seattle native.

But it says here, the best thing the Jays can do is to leave Wallace to get a year's worth of playing first in Las Vegas. I think Overbay for Atlanta's Derek Lowe would make a LOT of sense, considering the difference between the two's contract is just about that nine million saved on not having Roy around. And old pro Lowe has pitched in the AL East, so he won't melt. And he's an innings eater AND he might have some mentor in him. But even on into 2011, the Jays aren't on track to win and it will probably be best to have his 200 innings to give to young, cheap pitchers. Toronto will have enough. Then, in 2011, Wallace and Lind can share 1B and DH. Lind can then be the emergency fifth outfielder. He's not a LOT worse than Snider.

None of the three is likely to spend more than September with Toronto this upcoming season. D'Arnaud's two, maybe three years away. Given the bandiment at various times of major-leauge names like J.A. Happ, Cole Hamels, BJ Upton, Wade Davis, Clay Buccholts, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Eric Aybar and more 'top' prospects than JP Ricciardi can say no to, the fact that we'll need the Internet to know how the trade haul is performing this year is really quite astonishing.

It says here the whole deal rests on young Mr. D'Arnaud's shoulders. I assume Drabek becomes a starter, maybe even the number two some think he can be. A solid, cost-controlled middle-of the rotation starter is valuable. Maybe Wallace becomes the second coming of Carlos Delgado, may he becomes Russell Branyan. Somewhere inbetween would be good enough ... IF D'Arnaud is a ten-year starter in Blue Jay Blue and White. Otherwise ...

Five year's hence, just how to YOU think Alex Anthopoulos will be remembering December 2009?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

INTERNET: The Funnies As They Are Now

It's been three months since I last had a newspaper delivered to my door. It's the first time in more than 40 years that I haven't paid for the Toronto Star to arrive sometime in the wee hours of the morning. Check that, it used to come in the afternoon, but it's been a morning paper since before Al Gore invented the internet.

One of the things I have done to replace the daily reading ritual that was the Star, is to gather together a folder of bookmarked comic strip sites. Fourty-three, currently. And I've amassed them from a wide variety of places. I started with the Star's comic strips, which weren't complete. Can't remember which ones weren't on the web, but I missed a couple. So I went looking. And the list grew and grew.

And none currently are Toronto Star links!

There's a reason for that. I read a LOT of Toronto Star content and I use Firefox to do so. Further, I have Adblock and NoSquint installed within Firefox. The former stops a lot of ads from showing up on the page while the latter allows me to magnify the page. The problem with NoSquint is that it's site based. And if I magnify the Between Friends strip to be as big as possible on it's page, suddenly I only get a paragraph or two on Doug Smith's basketball blog. So, I sussed out other papers that carry King Features' syndicated strip service, Comic Kingdom, and now use those other papers strictly for their comics. In fact, I went one step further. I go to the Albany Times Union for mostly strips and San Antonio Express News for panel cartoons. I've got each sized 'just right.'

And, by not adjusting for maximum comics size, the Toronto Star news features and blogs can be sized just right for what they provide ... the words.

One other thing. If you run the NoScript add-on for Firefox, make sure you enable both the newspaper site AND the originating comic syndicate sites. Many papers make use of Comics Kingdom. Others use, which, if memory serves, is a brand from United Features. The Washington Post is the other paper site I use a lot. I also enjoy UClick gocomics and what's a list of comics without Dilbert, which I know get directly from There's also and, which both have delightful layouts and rich, vibrant colours. I wish more of my strips were available from their services.

As for the individual strips, which I start reading with Family Circus and then end with Zits, there are some omissions that people might find surprising. I've never been a Doonesbury or Berke Breathed fan. Garfield? Mehh! I'm a dog guy, which accounts for Buckles, Fred Basset and Marmaduke making the list. You could make a case for mistaken species in Mother Goose and Grimm, but I still claim it's a canine strip. I used to include Tarzan, Spider-Man and The Phantom, but the glacial pace of the daily adventures made them unenjoyable, despite some gorgeous art on all three. Oh, the same goes for Prince Valiant reprints, which is counter to what I remember when I was a youngster. Still, I think I have an eclectic group of strips. The only ones I'm surprised I'm admitting to are Love Is... and Six Chix.

If I had to pick five strips I'd pick Family Circus, Crankshaft, Fred Basset, Shoe and Working Daze. Judge me as you will.
Daily Strips
ArcaMax - Family_Circus
UCLICK- Adam@Home
Creators- Archie
WaPo- Beetle Bailey
SA - Between Friends
ComicsCom- Big Nate
TU - Buckles
Creators- Chuckle Bros
UCLICK- Compu-toon
TU - Crankshaft
ComicsCom- Drabble
TU - Edison Lee (The Brilliant Mind of) F Minus
WaPo- Fastrack
UCLICK- The Flying McCoys
UCLICK- Fred Basset
UCLICK- For Better or For Worse
WaPo- Hagar
UCLICK- In the Bleachers
WaPo- Hi and Lois
ComicsCom- Lola
UCLICK- Love Is...
ComicsCom- Marmaduke
ArcaMax- Mother Goose
UCLICK- The Norm
ComicsCom- Off the Mark
Creators - One Big Happy
Creators- The Other Coast
SA - Pardon My Planet
ComicsCom- PC and Pixel
UCLICK- PreTeena
TU - Pros and Cons
TU - Retail
SA - Rhymes with Orange
ComicsCom- Ripley's
WaPo- Sherman's Lagoon
WaPo- Six Chix
UCLICK - Tank McNamara
TU - Tina's Groove
ComicsCom- Working Daze
ArcaMax - Zits

Saturday, December 12, 2009

LIFE: This Year's Christmas Tree Raising

A little late. This year's ceremony was Thursday night. The mob was reduced to just two industrious workers this year, and somehow the tree continued to seem full when they finished. Kudos to Angela (right) and Megan (left) on a job superbly done. (I put the angel on, six tries only this year!!!!, otherwise I just sit back and watch).

Monday, December 07, 2009

COMPUTERS: And The Next Day...

The switch to GoogleDNS results: Better. Yep, BETTER!

I roused myself from slumber around noon and decided to sit around and check out the time for the full load of tabs. Last night, I timed the full set at 81 seconds. Today at lunch hour EDT, when things should be booming on the internet, I timed it at 36 seconds for all 143 tabs. I was actually reading the text of the last tab loaded after 22 seconds. Hmmm, another two-fold increase in speed over the 18-fold increase from last night. I think GoogleDNS is a keeper.

Now, it wasn't perfect, as was the download last night. One site, where I download two different pages right off the bat, wouldn't load. And for some reason, the tab right after them failed to load completely. A two percent failure rate. Betcha won't happen tomorrow. But even still...

Also, Patrick installed GoogleDNS and didn't see much of a big improvement, although he said it felt quicker. Mind you, he samples the web one bookmark at a time. Even my parents now load their morning news all at once, fergawdsakes! But he was using Netscape Navigator as recently as last year, atavist that he is. So when he says it 'feels' quicker, then you can be sure it's a darn sight quicker.

I'm a believer. Try it out. What have you got to lose? Other than time spent fiddling your thumbs and clicking on re-load button-developed calluses?

Sunday, December 06, 2009


That wasn't the question until this past week.

Then, Google announced its own DNS server product (Free, with strings, of course) and suddenly I started wondering whether I should make a switch. Really, it wasn't a long discussion. Fact is, that the DNS server at has been ... well, lousy for awhile. For the unaware, the DNS thingy I'm talking about is called a Domain Name Server. It's the telephone-book like service that lets you put a name, such as and get back the numerical address equivalent. I can't remember what that is, but it looks like four sets of numbers separated by periods. This directory searching service is a necessity and your internet service provider provides you with one by default.

Until about three weeks ago, rogers' DNS was performing adequately. Every morning (well, sometimes afternoons) I wake up and schlep into the office and middle click on a few folders in Firefox. Together, the four tabs I click on load about 142 tabs (it goes up and down periodically). I then finish the ritual of waking up and come back, expecting to spend the next 90-120 minutes perusing the sites I have bookmarked. By clicking on various links, I probably hit 200-250 page views in all. Having gone through all the trouble of pre-loading those tabs, I expect to get through each site with a minimum amount of effort. That effort should NOT include re-loading the tab because it timed out nor should I have to re-load the tab to have the page finish fully loading, rather than a bit here and a bit there showing.

Lately, I haven't been getting what I wanted. Where I could be happy with, say five pages timing out and five others not finishing, say seven percent unhappy, the failures have risen dramatically of late. Regularly, I was hitting failure rates of SIXTY percent when loading the tabs en masse. Even loading just a section, say the computer programming folder, resulted in more than half of the 14 tabs in that group not loading correctly. And what did, did slowly.

Then I lost the internet completely from Thursday late afternoon to mid Friday afternoon. A reset of the modem got back intermittent support, but for only one connection at a time. No web-browsing while checking email. Forget newsgroups and other stuff. Time to call rogers tech. A technician came out on Saturday and found some rusted out connectors on the outside box (I have two lines coming into the house). He fixed it all and suggested, upon finishing, that I would once again have happiness. I would be getting a big increase in performance, maybe close to what I pay for, the ULTIMATE package. What I DO get is a little less than 10Mbps download and between a half-meg and 1Mbps of upload speed. Rogers rates a 3.1 out of 5 for actual performance, according to

So, imagine my utter disappointment to discover the hardware fix, didn't fix Firefox. I tried upping the disk cache to twice what I had before and boosted the memory cache by 50 percent. No big improvement. The Toronto Sun Sunshine Girl page was still taking 49 seconds to load. Well, mostly load. A second re-load page was required to finish the job, meaning it actually took 54 seconds. I called Patrick to palaver over options.

I had read about GoogleDNS and knew about OpenDNS, two publicly-available DNS replacements for your ISP's version. I had tried OpenDNS, but was unfamiliar with the product and gave up on it. It allows for more filtering of sites and I obviously ran afoul of a few filters I didn't know I could turn off. So, I ditched OpenDNS back then and went back to the local product. A series of columns these past few days in ComputerWorld touted both of the DNS alternatives. OpenDNS has a greater attraction amongst parents and corporations, for the ability to pre-filter spots. Google had the charm of being totally agnostic. It didn't do anything but serve up the sites you ask for, as quickly as Google can manage it. And Google equals fast in most things internet these days.

And GoogleDNS is not going to ruin that operation. With some hesitation, I changed my DNS settings in my router to and I flushed all my caches with Crap Cleaner. And then I put Firefox through the whole load test. All 143. And all 143 loaded in 81 seconds. ALL of them. Completely. No timed out errors. No mishmash of pages with some elements loaded and some not. The 40 Comic Strips I visit daily were all there, even the ones from the Toronto Star, which hates loading correctly at the best of times. I shut down Firefox, ran Crap Cleaner and then went back and loaded just the Toronto Sun Sunshine Girl page. Less than three seconds.

Now, anytime you do something that gets you an 18-fold increase in performance, you have to try to look behind the curtain. Somebody HAS to be yanking your chain, don't you think? My caveat is that this happened on a Sunday night when, as Patrick put it, everybody was watching Desperate Housewives on TV. Not me, I have taste. But most folks. The Internet bandwidth probably looked like the Autobahn to my computer that time of the night. But I do check a LOT of European sites, as well as ones in China, Australia and Russia (Delphi programmers can be found all over the world). Those came up lickety-split quick too.

So, I'll await the sun's rising here in Brampton on the morrow and see if the speed increase holds. Heck, if even half of it holds and the completeness remains true, then I become a whole-hearted Google evangelist for this product.

In case you want YOUR internet to perform like greased lightning, check out GoogleDNS!

NOTE: The strings. You were wondering about the strings. When you type in a non-existent site, you frequently get a message saying your site can't be found. When you use GoogleDNS, you end up at a site saying so ... WITH ads Google has sold companies. PLUS, potentially Google gets a track record of every place you go on the internet, which it currently doesn't keep. Some of the more paranoid (Yes, Irwin, there are people even more paranoid than me) of you out there will balk at that. On the other hand SOMEBODY gets that data. Do you trust rogers more than Google?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

SPORTS: Brian Burke

I quibble with the perception that Brian Burke is a hockey savant, a man who seemingly has the golden touch. I feel he took over the major parts of a Stanley Cup team from Brian Murray and sawed off the rough edges and added some glue guys (talented, but glue nonetheless) and got a Cup to smear over lesser stints in Hartford and Vancouver. I have a saying for it, "Burke's blarney."

I previously thought of him as a poor man's Don Cherry by way of America.

And in the most part, my evaluation of him as a hockey guy is still on hold. But as a man? Totally, completely reversed. Brian Burke is a man. A good man. A man I'd like in my foxhole and in peacetime, living next door.

He's the father of Brendan Burke. The story of that relationship is told in a column up at written by John Buccigross. I heard about it a half-hour ago when Buccigross was interviewed on TheFan590 by Bob McCown. He didn't preface the reason for the story while teasing the piece and I won't either. But, if you are interested in a peek behind the public persona of Brian Burke and learn of the outstanding guy Brendan Burke is, (and University of Miami hockey coach Enrico Blasi should be included in the hosannas as well) then go to

You will be glad you did, unless you are an idiotic close-minded fool. Which you shouldn't be, if you are reading this blog.

Brian Burke. Brendan Burke. Enrico Blasi. Thank you for being the people you are. The world is better for it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

SPORTS: Tyler Seguin Doing Dad Proud

The news today (yesterday, but today when writing this) that Tyler Seguin is now the top-rated Ontario Junior for the 2010 NHL Draft brought back some memories. Even though I never met the young man.

I met Tyler's dad, Paul, way back when. Back in the days when Paul spent his summers playing softball at a pretty decent level, before focusing on hockey. He eventually played for my Bramalea Blues junior team and then moved on to captain the University of Vermont. Tyler thinks his dad was a fighter, but the Paul Seguin I remember was a rock-hard defenseman who played hockey the right way and didn't drop the dukes much in junior. Hard to believe college hockey turned him into a Green Mountain Brawler Boy. But if that's the picture he wants for his son, who am I to disagree.

As a softball player, some of that burning desire came through. Bluntly, it was desire, not talent that got Paul on my rep team as an atom division Bramalea Buckaroo. He was a bit smaller than the other guys, but he never took a play off. I always wondered if he was having fun, because he didn't smile all that often. That wasn't all that unusual, according to his parents, who smiled a lot for him. They were still a bit reserved, but the kind of folk you'd want living next door. Solid, good people, a joy to be around for a kid (I was still in my teens despite coaching the reps) who didn't get along with all that many parents in those days. We didn't exactly win a lot of games that season.

But Paul seemed to survive my coaching and made the smart decision to eschew Junior A to play with the then Junior B Blues. I think we were still B's then, although it MIGHT have been the first season of Provincial Junior A, or even a season in the old outlaw Metro Junior Hockey League for the team. I'm old, the mind wanders. He knew then that he wasn't headed for the Big Show, but he was going to use hockey to get a first-rate education. And he did. And there was never a coach in any sport who ever was disappointed having Paul Seguin on his roster.

Paul's NHL dreams never got going, but it sure looks like Tyler's is just starting. Given his genes, it's impossible to believe he WON'T be a success.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SPORTS: Please Don't Trade Vernon Wells

How's that for a headline?

The worst Ricciardi in baseball, a Ricciardi being a really, really bad contract, Vernon Wells would be shipped out of town for a bag of bats, if most customers at the Rogers Centre had their way. They'd be happy to see him as an ex-Toronto Blue Jay. Mostly because he won't/can't earn that ridiculous stipend. No matter that he was actually underpaid last year and the year before, all anybody can moan about is 20-plus mill for each of the next four years.

And, in a way, they are right. He won't earn the money. But these are the days of ordinary outfielders earning eight figures anyway. And a healthy Vernon Wells is ordinary with gusts to above average. And that means you'd almost certainly throw out about $10M a year in value throwing him away for nothing. That's a fairly different situation than his former running mate, Alex Rios, who looks incapable of earning his big bucks in Chicago. Looks like Ricciardi did right giving away his last Ricciardi. Gawd that gets confusing. But I'd rather keep Wells for 30-50 cents on the dollar than zero cents on the dollar.

At any rate, The Toronto Blue Jays enter a new phase of the franchise's existence. Intelligent planning has returned. Scouts have been signed aplenty and kiddie GM Alex Anthopoulos is about to embark on a different direction. The old one, seeking to win 82 games and keep moaning about being in the same division as Boston and New York, is now thankfully history. So, do the Jays get serious around the automatic bank teller machines and stiffen up the budget to $120M or drop down to the $50M-$70M area and build for three years hence. As a newly-(re)minted Jays fan, I would MUCH prefer the former.

Let's see. We could re-up Scutaro and Barajas (and get Johnny Mac back too). I'd sign Adrian Beltre and let him give Roy Halladay Scott Rolen-like defence. And I'd ink Mike Cameron to play centre and shift Wells to right field. Which is where he'd be a lot closer to earning his money than as a fleet-footed flyhawk, which he really isn't anymore. Now, I'd finish off raising the payroll by $30M by trying to find a taker for Lyle Overbay (Atlanta for one of the pitchers?). That money would then go to former Montreal Expo Vladimir Guerrero. The new first baseman would be DH-extraordinaire Adam Lind. Leaving us with a starting lineup of C-Barajas 1B-Lind 2B-Hill SS-Scutaro 3B-Beltre LF-Snider CF-Cameron RF-Wells DH-Guerrero. The four subs would be Edwin Encarnacion, Johnny Mac, Jose Bautista (or maybe Joe Inglett) and a catcher, probably Raul Chavez. The pitching staff wouldn't have many changes, including keeping the Doc. There would have to be 12 pitchers, cuz outgoing manager Clarence Gaston goes through them like cocktail weenies at a party. It's a paper-thin roster with some injury risks (Wells and Guerrero chiefly), but it COULD score runs. If Lind has some sort of defensive awakening at first, the only sub-standard defender in the lot would be Snider. Barajas isn't any great shakes either, but Chavez is pretty good.

All it takes is for the kiddie corps of pitchers to grow up and provide 26 weeks of what they did for six weeks this year. Is that possible? Yeah, sure. Probably? Nah, not so much. But you have to hang your hat on something. Somebody has to produce for low pay somewhere, for the Jays to be successful.

Now, having outlined the dream, here's the reality. The Jays are going young and cheap. Forget Beltre, Cameron and Guerrero. Maybe forget Scutaro and probably forget Barajas. And almost certainly hang onto to that memory of Roy Halladay striding off the mound two months ago, having won his last start as a Toronto Blue Jay. He's going to go. It's just a matter of where, with a little when thrown in. His fabulous Blue Jay career is done.

So, we have the normal contenders for the best pitcher in baseball. I really don't like the usual Yankee package being bruited. The catcher can't catch and I'm not sold on any pitcher not named Phil Hughes, and he's not escaping pinstripes. Austin Jackson is a year away and answers a need. But he's not the outfielder rose amongst the flowers being offered up. The Boston fleecing of Cleveland in the Victor Martinez deal makes all Boston prospects suspect. And Philly is looking for a third-baseman on the open market already, and might not have the pennies AND prospects, after Cliff Lee cost them all of their B-guys.

One trade suggested by somebody is a New York Mets package for highly touted OF Fernando Martinez and SS Wilmer Flores. Neither is old enough to vote and neither has torn it up in the minors. But both have that 'IT' factor highly touted prospects for New York teams have. And there's only the two of them in the trade, cuz the Mets would ALSO take Wells and his contract off Toronto's hands at the same time. And to me, that would be the trade breaker. Trading Halladay has to replenish a Blue Jay farm system that just doesn't have any prospective star major leaguers in it. I'm not even sure the usual future Jays that we normally talk about; Jackson, Cooper, the second basemrn, Arencibia and the late-blossoming Dopirak will ever round out a big league bench, let alone start for any team. A Halladay trade MUST garner one and probably two current big leaguers, the second one being a rookie. A star-potential minor leaguer and a project have to be included too. There HAS to be a potential star and there HAS to be at least four potential future Jays in the deal. Otherwise, it's best to take those two draft picks Halladay will bring in the summer of 2011. He's worth that much to a young Blue Jay team as a mentor and role model for one more season.

For me, the team I think Toronto matches up with is Texas. It'll take Neftali Perez or Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy and two of the better Ranger prospects, but that's the kind of deal GM-Alex needs to make. I just wish the ownership in Texas didn't have such a case of the cash shorts right now. Otherwise, I think this hookup would be a cinch.

Overbay has to go too. I do think Atlanta would be a good destination. If Overbay, a fine fielder, ever re-developed some of his power long term, you are talking about a .280 hitting Gold Glove candidate with 20 homer and 50 double potential. And for $7M, not crazy expensive. Scutaro has to go too, cuz he's worth more as two high draft picks than he would be playing in Toronto for the next couple of years in rebuilding. Barajas has to go, because he's just not worth the money. In a rebuilding Blue Jays season, they be looking to pair Chavez with either Arencibia or more likely Brian Jeroloman. Keeping Jeroloman and Chavez, both defensive whizzes, would give Arencibia time for a full-time gig in Las Vegas. After that, the Blue Jays would know whether he's a legit prospect or not. Of course, I STILL think we should sign John McDonald and give him the shortstop spot full-time, since anybody demonstrably better overall would be counter-productive in terms of paying too much for a team with such modest goals.

That leaves an offensive roster with some talent, Lind and Aaron Hill. Snider, who can't possibly play right field full time at the major league level, probably can become an average-plus left fielder offensively and something close to adequate defensively. And you still have Wells. I'd go out and sign one of Marlon Byrd, Randy Winn or Rick Ankiel to play right field. Maybe a Coco Crisp and slide Wells to right would be an alternative. And you know, I wouldn't even hate the idea of Eric Hinske being the latest Blue Jay to come home and play right. Shockingly, I also think Bautista could play right for a year while the Jays regroup for a better bunch of choices a year hence. What the Jays cannot do is go with Lind-Wells-Snider across the outfield grass. That's waaaaaay too ugly to contemplate. Lind is either a future 1B or a DH with the ability to spell Snider in left on occasion.

Edwin Encarnacion will get a chance to prove himself fully healthy. I'd even consider signing him to an extension now, say for two extra years at $4M each plus a team option for $5M. The reason? I think he can shift to right field if the hot corner proves too much for him. I think he could provide the same kind of game Hinske or Bautista could provide. And that's a worst-case scenario. If, on the other hand, he comes back to 2007 levels, the contract would be a bargain. Like I say, you gotta hit the occasional homer out of the ballpark, and I think Encarnacion is the only Blue Jay with unshown upside.

In addition to Halladay, some of the other highly-thought of Blue Jay pitchers would have to go. Scott Downs and Brian Tallet would be the most obvious trading chips. But I'd do my best to move Jason Frasor and Jeremy Accardo, assuming either aren't made free agents earlier. I would expect young projects back for the first two and salary relief back for the latter two. And I would see if Brandon League could handle the closer duties. If not, he'd go mid-season. Otherwise, I'd fill with the kids who pitched in Toronto this year. No signing wise old vets. I'd get maybe one, somebody in the vein of Dan Plesac when he was here. Somebody to talk to. Otherwise, I'd just let the kids pitch in the big leagues, rather than down in Las Vegas, what with that bandbox confidence-crusher of a stadium. I'd TRY to talk Gaston into letting them pitch themselves out of trouble, surely a bargain Gaston can make for the managing/consulting gift of a contract given to him by old pal CEO Paul Beeston.

The goal of the reconstituted Blue Jays would be win 63 games. And get a high draft choice in 2011. And to sign the bunch of picks the team will have in 2010, even if it means overpaying them. The need is to expand the talent base of players who won't cost too much until well into the next decade. Then, with some judicious talent drafting and a bigger budget, the team can go on the financial hunt when the prey is much, much better out there than it is now. The club will know if Snider is legit and whether Lind can play first. Whichever (if any) of the Ricciardi era draft screwups can overcome their current low evaluations will be known. The talent acquired for Halladay will be contributing or close to it. That's when the purse-strings will come off and GM-Alex will show whether he's really the wunderkind Beeston thinks he is.

But it's probably going to be a couple of very bad years for the Blue Jays and their fans. I just hope Vernon Wells will keep my company during those campaigns.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SPORTS: Trade Me

No, I do not seek exit from this blog to some other. They (the new blog people) might want me to work more regularly. Can't have that. But I AM blogging today about that most putrid of all trends in pro sports these days, the trade demand.

You already know how I feel about that particularly odious stunt. I hope (vainly) Dany Heatley isn't named to Canada's men's hockey team for the Olympics. Won't watch a game with him wearing MY flag. I've hoped Baron Davis would break a leg and my feelings about Vince Carter border on the grounds for arresting on threatening charges. The latest cro-magnon to issue the trade request is Stephen Jackson of the Golden State Warriors, a mental midget with a fair bit of basketball talent, a big contract, a HUGE ego and an agent willing to play along for his payday.

I'm sick and tired of it. I hate when the muddy tip of the tail of the dog wags the dog. Jackson is a bad boy, history tells us. His antics were one of the reasons the Indiana Pacers fell apart, becoming the JailBlazers' East. Not all the reason. Else even Don Nelson, a once-great basketball player, coach and executive, but now just a doddering old fool, wouldn't have tried acquiring him. Nelson did. And for one shining post-season, his this century's version of Run-DMC pulled off one highlight win after another in an improbable run to the Western finals. But the aforementioned Davis split for the San Diego dough and the illusion a good Spring brings popped like the zit that Jackson uses for a brain.

Here we are two years later and Jackson did all captains proud (they aren't him) by demanding a trade. He's acted like the jackass he is and his agent is worse. His teammates want him gone. And nobody is trying too hard to part Jackson and the Warriors. If they do, you can bet Golden State will be accepting 10 cents on the talent dollar to move his big talent and bozo brain.

It's time, as the new player's agreement between the NBA and it's money-makers is due for renegotiation, that this matter be addressed. There's also the matter of old vets looking for one more run at the title to go in and say ... release me. They then join a contender and hope to be able to get a ring for one of their fingers or toes. Problem is, they also want their full remaining money PLUS what they can squeeze out of the new team. The upside to the team being left in the rear-view window of the Mercedes/BMW/Lamborghini? Good will for the next vet who 'knows' they will treat him right when HE demands money for no service. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgghhhhh!

So, here's the new rule structure to govern written trade demands (as adverse trade requests). Player will be accommodated within 15 days of his trade request. If he doesn't get traded, he can ask for, and receive his release. Should he DECLINE his opportunity for release, he cannot issue a trade demand for one year from the date of his initial trade demand.

What's the catch? Thought you'd ask.

A player who demands to be traded can be released on the following payment plan: The money owed to him for the remaining games on his contract will be paid on the following percentage basis. The NUMBER of games the player played or was eligible to play (trips to the injury list and DNP-CD count as being eligible) will be divided into the number of games contracted for. That percentage of money still to be paid will represent the buyout. The morning of the date of the trade deadline represents the dividing line between games eligible to play and the rest of the contracted-for games.

Let's use Jackson and some rough numbers. He signed, I believe, a five-year deal (410 games). He was around for 82 games for year one and let's say 18 this year. That represent him making himself available for 100 of the 410 games contracted for. It's a hair under 25 per cent of the contract being fulfilled. So, he can be bought out for 25 per cent of the remaining value of his contract. That's three seasons at roughly nine million plus what's left on this year, which comes out to about seven million. Let's call it 34 million bucks outstanding. If you take a quarter of that you get eight and a half million dollars to wipe the contract off the books. Would Golden State give Jackson a golden handshake of 8.5M and forgo making a lop-sided trade. In a New York minute. Which is where Jackson would probably end up.

And just to add a kicker to the kind of shenanigans players and their agents would come up. IF you do get your release through a trade demand, the SIGNING players could only offer you a deal for the same kind of money you just passed up. The MAXIMUM any team can offer, for however many years they want, is the difference between what you made this season for the old team and the contracted for total (Bonuses included). So, if Jackson wants to ditch Golden State, then he's capped at that seven million he had left on this deal for this year.

I'd also limit the length of contract. More study would be needed, but not to exceed the length of the original contract reneged on by the player stands to reason.

So what kind of fool would then put his trade demand in writing? Well, pro sports (and I'm making this trade-me ruling a standard for ALL pro team sports) is filled with idiots who are athletic freaks and mentally-deficient dufuses. Dufii? At any rate, there'd be no problem getting some of them to make their trade demands contractually altering. The agents would pull out their hair, but some would do it.

On the other hand, some of the players would pull the Carter disappearing act. Withholding effort and saying things about people, places and institutions privately (or even sometimes publicly), all in an effort to get themselves traded. See ya in court. An arbitration panel would be set up with a player association rep, a league official and an agreed-on arbiter, would review evidence from the team and deem if a de facto trade demand had been issued. The player could NOT play during the review period, thus teams could not reasonably use it to 'punish' a player. Teams LOSING an arbitration decision would get fined a good solid million for abuse of the process. Plus costs.

Players who are INJURED cannot issue a trade demand nor be taken to trade request arbitration. Can't have bad contracts to injured players done away with through collusion. They have to be bought out the same way as always. The old-fashioned way. Through negotiation.

Which leaves one last area. The impact on the cap space. Getting back all of the money the player fleeing took under the cap doesn't make sense. Getting either the space for one year spread out over the remainder of the length of the contract OR a trade exception for his remaining cap hit seems about right. The latter rather than the former, is probably best. And, oh yes, the cap hit for any team signing him as a FREE agent, rather than acquiring him in a trade, will be for the full remainder of that exception. So, even if the Knicks sign Jackson for two million for the rest of the year, they have to take a seven mill hit. Makes it MUCH more enticing to trade for him. And, since he's a 7M hit regardless, they might as well get rid of some cap-taking contracts on the way back. But Golden State doesn't have to accept any old offer, the Warriors can pay the 8.5M walking price and be done with him.

Now, this is a situation 98 per cent of the NBA players will never find themselves in. Most of them know just how great they have it. Being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more, waaaaay more) to play a game they love and are good at, isn't the most arduous job in the world. And, like most people, they honour their contractual commitments.

But for some of these twits, rules HAVE to be emplaced to prevent the inmates from taking over the asylum.

Besides, won't it be great to see some coach asked, "Hey, we hear your star player has asked to be traded." His reply, honestly, factually, "News to me. He hasn't put it on paper. And, until he does, it's a non-issue. Not worth commenting on. Next question."


Brandon Jennings had a decent night out tonight for the Milwaukee Bucks. The rookie put up 55 for the Bucks and that makes my prediction that he'd be the biggest flop amongst rookie picks this past summer look bad. Really bad. Really, REALLY bad.

On the other hand, I still have time. Afterall, less than 10 games in to Channing Frye's career, the one-time New York Knick was making my calls for doom and gloom for his future look almost as bad. THAT didn't work out too badly for me, although he seems to have come back to solid sub status with Phoenix this year. And Jennings has a LOT of Stephon Marbury in him. Talent and swagger don't always mix. Some times it leads to self-immolation.

So I wait. The fuse is lit. Maybe he blows all up or maybe he blows up. Don't like my chances now, but life is long.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SOFTWARE: Whither Win 7?

Okay, not the month gap I promised, but today was Win 7 Launch Day and, while I didn't throw a party, I do have it up and running on the laptop (thanks in large part to Patrick's efforts).

Soooo, what are my first impressions? Meh!

What will be your first impressions? Probably a whole lot better. Windows 7 is the smarter, younger brother to Vista, the OS that almost killed Microsoft. Given the urgency on the part of Billy Gates' alma mater, it was imperative that the company release a solid Vista fix and they have. It's all Vista-like with better performance, less intrusive nattering and performs somewhere close to my gimmicked-out XP. The new machine, Quincy, will certainly have it when it arrives sometime between now and the end of cold season. That's because Quincy will be a quad-core cadillac with 20G of memory and will be running the 64 bit version of Windows 7 so that I can run multiple virtual machines with 3G of memory each. But each of those machines will be XP computers.

Really, what bugs me about Win 7 on first up close and personal blush, is the eye candy. I know. It cements my curmudgeon reputation. But the fact is, I'm old and I tend not to be diverted by pretty young things any more. Took awhile, but I finally got most of the eye candy dispensed with and finally got something approaching a usable desktop. Didn't get to the shutting off of those irritating "do you REALLY want to" dialogs, but it will happen. And I am certainly not going to depend on Microsoft for security on a main machine. That's what ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite's for. But I'll wait a bit and give the native stuff a try on the Moby Dick the laptop. Actually want to test out the new MS Security Essentials and see just how it does. Can't hurt, since the laptop isn't doing any production work any time soon. Simply some surfing and use for demoing the latest versions of what I AM producing right now.

I want speed first and foremost in a computer. Most every decision I make in regards to changing computer or software is based on speed. I want a second saved here and another second or seven saved there. And despite the impressive ability of Win 7 to be almost, if not AS fast, as XP on the IBM laptop, I just don't have the energy to fiddle around getting the new OS in just the right spot on my current production computers. It'd have to be a darn sight faster than it actually is, to force me to move prematurely.

On the other hand, YOUR mileage will vary. For most everybody who I have been cautioning not to go near a computer purchase since the spring, HAVE AT IT! I think the wait will have been worthwhile. Unless, of course, your new-found patience will let you WAIT JUST A LITTLE LONGER.

Those holiday-season sales will be upon us in about 45 days!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

SOFTWARE: Recovering From Self-Inflicted Virus Attack

I'm not dead. Not even really sick, although I do have yet another visit to the doctor's coming up Monday. Just been snowed under by THE PROJECT FROM ... well my best-paying client.

This doesn't signal a return to blogging. That's probably a month away. I've got things to say about the Argos, my baseball team, my former baseball team, hockey, books, the fall TV season, etc. Just not right now. What I DO have to say right now is all about fixing my latest stupid waste of time.

I thought I was updating one of my utilities earlier today and clicked on the wrong file name. That's wrong as in the WRONG file, and wrong as in, I got hammered for doing so. Something tried to squirm onto my system and succeeded partially. My defences stopped most of it. But not all of it. I had to uninstall one program and then I rebooted. And things went south from there.

Eventually, the solution was searching out two different files and renaming them. The first was wmiprvse.exe, which existed in five places in my C:\Windows folder. THREE of them were on the list of right-sized versions of the file. TWO weren't on the good list. And the key one was in C:\Windows\System32\WBEM. That one kept giving me error messages complaining that wmiprvse.exe couldn't reference memory. We're talking about an error dialog about every ten seconds, or so. I DID stop the program running. It's a service and it's on the Microsoft Trusted list. Hah!

I think I tried about a dozen reboots in all and kept getting this message, EVEN before logging in, during each reboot. I tried uninstalling this, deleting that. I was seriously thinking about dunkirking the drive and restoring an eight-day old copy of drive C:\. But I eventually renamed the wmiprvse.exe's in WBEM and C:\Windows\System32\DLLcache. On the next reboot, Windows copied GOOD versions to those locations from one of the three places where such files hid. And the error message went away!!!

Only to be replaced by annoyingly similar complaints about LogonUI.exe. It couldn't reference memory either! I turned the air blue for a bit and did the same search I'd done for it's predecessor on my hate list. Once again, I found a couple of correctly-sized versions and one oddly-sized one in System32. I renamed that one and rebooted. Twice. And NO MORE $#&@^)@#&$ programs complaining about not being able to reference memory.

So, I'm out four, almost five hours, of fixing something that came about purely for being sloppy at clicking away on links on websites (And yes, I alerted the website and the infected file is no longer available). Sure, I got spanked for that sloppiness. And yes, I could have restored the C:\ drive backup in about an hour, without losing much of anything (remember, I don't install or save anything TO C:). And I really couldn't afford the time. But all in all, not a horrible outcome.

And the reason I'm admitting to this screwup? I'll do it again sometime in the future. And I'll be able to come here for the solution.

See ya in 30. Or thereabouts.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

SPORTS: Here's One Heatley Idea I Haven't Heard

Sue the bum.

Just once, I would like a pro sports team to tell the star that screws them with words and deeds to see them in court. Wait, I mean twice. Because the ONE organization that has done this in the past is the self-same Ottawa Senators that are now being put through the wringer again by a player. Although I hesitate to call Dany Heatley a player. Players have hearts. He's missing one. Players have brains. His behaviour and expectations that this week's 'press conference' paints him in a team-oriented light obviously shows he has a deficiency there too. He deserves plenty bad to happen to him where ever he takes his ghost act to in the future. Might I suggest the KHL?

Ottawa once had a bonehead named Alexei Yashin. He took his money and figure-skated his way through games as if he hadn't a care in the world, save for what time Carol Alt was getting home. He was despicable too. And when he thought he could get his money and not even do the figure-skating part, a judge told him "Bad guess, bub."

Heatley has the ultimate legal enforcer this time around. He has a piece of paper signed by the team that says you can't waive me, trade me, or otherwise trouble me with silly team rules. And since you changed coaches on me (again) and this new twerp insists I play both ends of the ice, I'm going to force you to trade me. But I'm not telling you where, you have to guess. And if I don't like my would-be new coach and place to stow my gear, I'll just exercise my no-trade rights. Is this not one of the signs of the apocalypse? Trade me ... and I'll tell you where.

There is nothing honourable or praiseworthy about this cement-head. His actions, through word and mis-deed, have harmed the Senators. He's a monumental embarrassment to hockey and one can only hope that Steve Yzerman understands how destructive a personal prima donna like him would be to Canada's hopes of winning back hockey gold at the Olympics in Vancouver in February. I won't watch that exercise if it includes Heatley. I couldn't stand the shame of cheering for the guy.

All of this is just posturing of course. Nobody wants Heatley at the price and demands he comes with. Ottawa will have to retain and play him (although Eugene Melnyk could become a national hero by telling him to bide his time in his own personal hell, but that won't happen). Any Senator willing to blacken both of his eyes would be similarly blessed with hosannas and I'm sure there's an Edmonton Oiler or seven who might take up the fight... so to speak.

Until that happens ... and surely SOME good Canadian boy will make it happen, the dream remains. Sue the bum.

Friday, August 21, 2009

SPORTS: The Baseball Talent Entry System

The baseball draft has been broken for years. It rewards the Scott Boras's of the world and anybody who can manage to defect to a Caribbean nation and youngish old guys from Japan.

Bud Selig, clueless as he often seems to be, is probably going to make changing the draft his last stand before vacating the office of Commissioner of Major League Baseball. It's also going to lead to a strike. He wants massive changes and will get maybe half of the changes he wants, even after going through a strike. But at least there will be something new to complain about.

Since he won't get what he wants, let me tell you what SHOULD happen.

First of all, the draft changes names. The amateur draft hasn't been about real amateurs for years. Those full-ride college scholarships the baseball teams are competing against are worth thousands of dollars. Baseball players are semi-pro, when we are talking about high schoolers graduating to college. Soooo, we change the name of the draft to the Baseball Talent Entry System. That's step one.

Next, baseball talent can NOT sign a professional baseball contract with the major leagues and their minor affiliates UNLESS they have been through the Baseball Talent Entry System. If they go undrafted in their one and only one time in the draft, they are free agents to do as they will.

Thirdly (I think we are up to three 'rules'), the second requirement pertains to every player in the world. No exceptions for Japanese players. No exceptions for players escaping the brutal dictatorships around the world. No exceptions.

Japanese players, for example, can STILL participate with posting fees. It's just that the posting fee is stated up front and is open to all teams to accept as the price for drafting a player. If Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to cost some team $51M, then that's the price. But it's open to the San Diego Padres AND the Boston Red Sox. Posting fees from Korea and Taiwan follow the same process.

The draft is reduced to about 40 rounds, enough to refill a major league roster every year.

Based on the NBA renumeration system, there is a pre-determined payment system based on a three-year MINOR LEAGUE contract that is the only payment method available. Strictly cash, no other bonuses. Players won't need agents or 'advisors.' The money will be non-negotiable. The price for the top pick will be healthy, and will be adjusted as a portion of major league revenues on a yearly basis. Each succeeding pick through the first two rounds will get payments on a sliding scale. For rounds 3-10, there will be a flat fee that is respectable, say $250,000. Rounds 11-20 get $200,000, 21-30 $150,000 and rounds 31-40 $100,000. Draftees in the latter half of the draft (21-40) only get two-year contracts.

Will this system result in more kids staying in school? Yep. And I find nothing wrong with that. And no, declining an offer after being drafted as a high school senior, doesn't leave you with a free agent bonanza two years later. A draftee's rights stay with the drafting team for a period of four years. Each year, the signing cost escalates by a percentage for those drafted in the first three rounds, otherwise, by $50,000 a year (a stay-in-school bonus, so to speak). At the end of the four-year 'rights' window, the drafting team has another year, less a day, to sign the player before he becomes a free agent.

The same four years (plus 364 days) window applies to foreign players freshly added to the now-drafted group. That means 32 year old Japanese stars looking to try their hand in America and 16-year old Dominicans.

If you do NOT get drafted in the 40 rounds of your 'draft' year, you are a free agent to do as you will.

Eligibility to participate in the Talent Entry System follows, more or less, current baseball rules. You have to have graduated high school or be at least 18 years of age. This obviously affects the Latin players, where we are seeing signings of players as young as 16 (and scouting/touting of even younger kids). This is going to require baseball to spend some money along the lines of the old Kansas City Royals' Youth Academy. MLB will set up Youth Academies in each of the various countries that produce baseball talent. Besides ensuring good instruction, nutrition and the chance to play before assembled scouts, the schools will also teach English and general life skills for these kids. Anything we can do to stop the bonus-stealing and, let's be honest, flesh-peddling that goes on, has to be a step up. The laissez-faire attitude that some Caribbean nations have for performance enhancing drugs will be battled. And the academies will do a lot of the pre-screening for legitimate birth certificates that seems to be a game with some of the kids down there. By the time these kids make their trip north to The Show, they will be older, stronger and better prepared for cultural shock. And closer to being actually ready to help a major league team.

A LOT of the money MLB will be saving under my draft plan will have to go to these youth academies. But the return on investment will be immense. Like the high schoolers in the States and Canada, this system helps stem the tide of poorly-prepared teenagers from bypassing schooling opportunities to chase the dream. Won't stop it completely, but it will be a good start.

Baseball benefits greatly in that they won't be paying for the 'learning' years nearly as much as it currently does. No big fat bonuses for the kids who don't pan out. (well, not as big). The players they DO sign, will be either the super-talented, super-driven kids or the more mature men who come later on. By that time, they will have a better idea of whether signing the player at the assigned price is a good deal or not.

So, what do we do about draft pick compensation for signing free agents away from other teams. (There's no worry about sandwich picks for not signing this year's draftees, of course). Well, this is simple. Each team's 40-man roster (including new free agents signings) is ranked in value on opening day. Injured players are included. The value is assumed to be the cash payements with ALL bonuses assumed to be awarded. If your new free agent is the first player in value, you owe your first-round draft pick to the former team. If he's the 20th-ranked player, then the old team gets the 20th-round pick you own.

This system is straightforward. It doesn't prevent the situation like that, that happened to the Toronto Blue Jays this year. AJ Burnett signed a huge deal that would have given the Jays a first rounder and a first round sandwich pick ... if he signed with anybody but New York, basically. But because he was the third-ranked free agent on the Yanks this year, the Jays got a THIRD-rounder from New York and the sandwich pick, which hardly seems fair to some people. And my system is even worse. I think Burnett's seventh on the Yankee payroll this year. Soooo, under my rules, the compensation for Burnett comes down to a seventh-round pick. A flaw? Yes. But just about any compensation system is flawed when factoring in the Yankees and Red Sox. Would I like to see a payroll cap? Sure. Won't happen. But I'd like to see one. If not a cap, I'd like to see a punishing luxury tax that starts lower and doubles every 40 million or so. If the Yankees were really only spending in the $150M area and the Red Sox and other big spenders came down to the $120M, teams could definitely compete with them for nine figures total.

At any rate, that's a separate rant somewhere in the future.

A lot has been made of the Yankee's home-grown talent. That IT's the secret behind their success, as much as the high-priced free agents. But a LOT of that talent was acquired, in effect, as undrafted amateur free agents. Mariano Rivera? Undrafted. Bernie Williams? Undrafted (although he would be today). Alfonso Soriano? Undrafted. There are more, but those are first three that come to mind. Credit the Yankees for finding that talent, but they signed LOTS of Latin talent. Those are amongst the ones that panned out. Spreading lots of money around meant lots of opportunities to get lucky. And they did.

I say, take back the Yankee advantage to get lucky in Latin America and I believe the field gets leveled. And afterall, isn't that actually the reason behind a talent draft in any pro sport?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ART: A Tartan To Be Proud Of

My brother Ricky is the artist of the family. He's had a long string of artistic accomplishments and did the family proud by going back to school relatively late in life and becoming an architect. A damn good one. He's well thought-of within the profession.

But he still dabbles a bit in things that fall outside of his architect purview. For example, he designed a tartan for The International Festival of Authors. And now it's been recorded for all posterity. That's right, the high mucky-mucks of Tartan have recognized his concoction of purple, green and magenta (and some other colours). You can see it here!

And it will live long after he and the IFOA are but fond memories. The official Scottish Register of Tartans has been recording the unique patterns for sixty years, but is only the latest incarnation of a group that got started back in the 1200's! The Scots take this kind of stuff seriously.

At any rate, this just adds, literally, another colourful chapter to our family history. Well Done! Rick.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SOFTWARE: Cairo Calling ...

I am a fan of Crossloop, the little remote access and viewing software that solved my problem with helping Dad through his computer problems, even though he was 200 miles away and not all that computer literate. A zero configuration answer to a problem that had plagued for years.

But I still use Remote Desktop Connection, the internal Microsoft remote software for most of my pro work. Partially, that's out of habit. Partially it's due to the layers that have been added to Crossloop over the last year. There's a (voluntary) login, a survey at the end, and endless ZoneAlarm questions because I don't allow anything but a temporary allowing of the program to bypass the firewall. Nothing regarding remote control gets out of or into my computer without my acknowledging that it's doing it.

Still, it's awfully nice to have Crossloop around for the unanticipated situations. Such as the call I received from half-way round the world recently. I got the call and a familar voice growled into the phone, "I've got a problem." No formalities, just a statement of fact. It was my friend Doug. And he was calling from Cairo, Egypt.

I don't get many calls from Egypt. Can only recall one in the past, when I was running PR for the American Contract Bridge League and talked to an Egyptian journalist about the Epson World Pairs. But I digress. Getting a call from Cairo was a different kind of start to the day.

Doug used to employ me before he sold his company to American interests and retired to go gallivanting around the world. He's semi-computer literate, knowing enough to be dangerous with his laptop. I continue to provide computer support for the sheer entertainment value. He's incredibly creative when it comes to computer problems. I yell at him. A LOT. It's cathartic.

At any rate, we couldn't solve his initial problem because he couldn't access the internet in the middle of the afternoon Cairo time (which was seven hours ahead of Brampton time). We agreed to make a second try later in the day, nearer late evening there.

And Crossloop worked perfectly, if a little slowly. Probably the effects of the Egyptian secret service watching our every move. Or so I would like to believe. I fixed his issue in short order and told him to call me when he got back to Canada to report on whether the fix stuck. He did. It did. And that was that.

I was struck later by the whole matter-of-factness of the whole situation. It was no different than when he would call from his Toronto home with some problem or another. Ten, fifteen minutes later, thanks to the immediacy of being able to see what he saw, the problem would be fixed. Toronto, Cairo? No different in actual terms these days.

Good on you Crossloop. Oops, that's how I would say it to my Australian friends. Good FOR you Crossloop!

Monday, August 17, 2009

SPORTS: Ukic Gone. Too Bad

If Roko Ukic had a rental lease somewhere in Toronto, I'm pretty sure he didn't renew it anytime after about, oh, June. By then, Bryan Colangelo, as close-lipped a GM as there is in sports, had let it be pretty well known he wasn't happy with the Toronto Raptors' backup point guard. You or I might quibble with his obvious unhappiness, but neither of us happens to have the power to move Ukic out of town. Apparently, that moving van's headed for Milwaukee.

Ukic and the sign-and-trade rights to Carlos Delfino, another fan fave, are going to be moved to Milwaukee for front-court plugger Amir Johnson and a player as yet named (methinks it will be Jodie Meeks, for salary reasons. But it might be Joe Alexander). Will not be official before Aug. 23 because Johnson was recently obtained by Milwaukee and can't be moved until then, but the transit papers are already in order.

I am a fan of Ukic, the son of a Croation rock star. Although he shoots the ball as if he's afraid of it, Ukic made me think he was on the same career path as starter Jose Calderon. Calderon's rookie problems were also shooting related. And Calederon improved dramatically with a lot of extra work. And Ukic is not afraid of hard work. I was hoping the 6-5 guard (I LOVE tall point guards) would mimic Calderon. And he might end up being a better defender than Calderon (who's not very good) by virtue of more dexterity and having more height. I just pictured Ukic as Calderon's more-or-less younger, bigger brother. But alas, the transformation of Ukic into a super sub won't happen here.

There's every chance it WILL happen in Milwaukee. Luke Ridnour's the starter for the Bucks and I'm not sure he's really any better than Ukic right now. Brandon Jennings was drafted to be the starter, maybe as early as this year, and Ramon Sessions might still return. And Sessions is likely to be the best bet for playing time this year, if that's the case. But it's more likely that Sessions ends with either the Clippers or the Knicks. Thus, Milwaukee traded for Ukic to be the third-stringer and back-up in training. I believe Jennings is the single most over-rated player drafted in July and Ukic will get playing time at his expense. And Ridnour's hurt about as often as Tim Horton's sells coffee. It's not hard at all to see Ukic playing good minutes ... assuming his shot doesn't resemble mine in accuracy.

Delfino's year away in Russia made him better in the minds of just about all Raptors' fans. He was Jordan in absentia as we watched wing problems plague last year's non-playoff team. The truth is, that he's always going to tantalize you with good games two of three nights, taking the third one off completely. I think he starts at the wing for Milwaukee, ahead of Hakim Warrick and Canuck Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. That and a bit more money than Toronto was offering on a one-year deal is probably what sealed Delfino's decision to abandon the wilds of Russia to become a Buck. Assuming Delfino is about the same player he was when we last saw him two years ago, you have to think Milwaukee did okay with the trade.

Did Toronto? I think so. It's a long season in the NBA and big men get banged up. Having a sixth big is a good idea and Johnson offers some rebounding, shot-blocking and a bullyish personality on the court to the Toronto mix. He's Reggie Evans, but younger and he has something approaching a mid-range game. He's also got an expiring contract. Joe Dumars has had some hits and misses in his drafting over the years and no longer wears the kind of halo reserved for Jerry West, but he has had faith in Johnson forever. Maybe the kick of being traded twice this summer does something to ignite Johnson. If so, Toronto traded a free agent who wasn't going to re-sign here and a third-string point guard for a contributor. That can't be bad.

Meeks is roster fodder, a shooting guard out of Kentucky who set the school one-game scoring record last year. A total wild-card with a slim chance to contribute. But the pedigree is good and he's 6-6, which is about the right size for a shooting guard. If, somehow, the guy coming back is Alexander, then the Raptors have a lottery ticket kid with spectacular hops and a single season of college success. But he was so spectacularly good with West Virginia two years ago that I wouldn't mind putting him on the developmental squad at all. He was rushed a bit in Milwaukee last year and failed. But again, a new coach might mean new results.

Whether Meeks or Alexander, we are talking long shots to contribute. But not hopeless players. Putting which one of them comes over, Patrick O'Bryant and fifth-string point guard Marcus Banks in civies most nights will be the best thing Toronto can do. It means they're dressing 12 legit NBA players that night.

Just too bad Ukic won't be one of them.

UPDATE: Apparently the soon-t0-be 15th Toronto Raptor will be guard Sonny Weems. I though he was trade-locked until Oct. 1, but guess I was wrong. I liked Weems coming out of Arkansas two summers ago, so I can't turn around and diss the acquisition completely. On the other hand, he didn't exactly light up the Denver sky with the Nuggets last year. My guess is he's going to look good wearing Cavelli on the bench beside O'Bryant and Banks.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

SPORTS: Insane Usain Bolt Strikes Again

I shouldn't be writing this right now. In fact, I shouldn't have been watching the world track and field championships, which prompted this blog. But Boss, I couldn't help myself.

Usain Bolt did it again. A new world record in the men's 100 metres. A mere 9.58 seconds, start to finish. It took longer to write the sentence with his time, than it took to run the race for the Jamaican superman. And when it was all done, ho hum. The dancer and prancer from Beijing is all grown up and expecting the kind of stupefying performance he put on today in Berlin.

Let's put things in perspective. Tyson Gay of the U.S.A. ran the third-fastest time in the history of the race. Bolt beat him by .13, a full eighth of a second. He lowered his own world record by .11 seconds, more than a tenth of a second, in a race where the record used to get lowered by a hundredth here, a couple of hundredths there. If anybody had any right to start goofing around, playing the winning clown, it was Bolt.

Everybody who knows me, knows I detest the kind of premeditated narcissistic celebration routines that permeate sports, especially football. I hate them, hate them, hate them. Basically because they come in team sports and celebrate 'I' rather than team. But in the individual sports, like track, I have a whole lot less antipathy towards celebration. And I also point out, celebrating a meaningless touchdown in Hamilton in July is a WHOLE LOT DIFFERENT than a world record in anything. Let alone the demolition job Bolt did on records in Beijing. Actually, I found the youthful enthusiasm refreshing and honest, something I could never say about that idiot Arland Bruce or his goofball brothers-in-shoulder pads Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens.

Bolt was in Toronto earlier this year, winning a sub-10 second race in the rain. Any doubts I had about genuineness disappeared that day. He's a big teddy bear of a guy who loves running fast. He's personable and is not full of himself. He's the ideal ambassador for the sport, which still hasn't completely overcome the druggie champions of the past. And no, I don't think there's anything chemical going on in the Jamaican giant that isn't natural and legal. I've long thought some past champions escaped detection. I'm only sure of a few having run to glory completely cleanly (Donovan Bailey from down the road in Oakville is one of them). But add Bolt to the list. The man is a self-refined freak of nature.

What finally struck me most about that record today was the fact Bolt didn't act surprised. He ran through the whole race, something he didn't do in Beijing. That was a night when he ran 9.69, celebrating over the last 30 metres. What could he have run if he'd been intent on pushing the limits?

We know now. Something in the 9.5's. Incredible. And that's worth celebrating.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SPORTS: Jury's Out on Rios Move

I might be in a minority, but I'm sure you can't be sure the waiving of Alex Rios isn't going to come back and bite the Toronto Blue Jays on the butt. Same goes for Kenny Williams latest trip out onto a limb, where few dare go.

I've wavered back and forth on the merits of just letting Rios' contract evaporate off the books of the club, as if he never existed. There are times when I can see the merits of freeing up the eight figures a year the Jays were going to hand the frequently unfocused right-fielder. Certainly, he wasn't turning in an all-star performance this year ... although he wasn't being paid like one. Yet. On the other hand, his play HAD picked up over the last month and it isn't too late for Rios to end the year hitting .290 and having banged out 25 home runs.

The good side of the waiver deal for the Jays is that they will have close to 10 million American pesos to spread around, come the off-season. Some have pointed out that that sum this year could have meant Bobby Abreu, Orlando Hudson and a couple of scrubs for the bench, with enough change for a dinner at McDonald's. Not one baseball man was smart enough to actually do that kind of signing, but the two teams in L.A. at least get some credit for spotting free agent value. Even if the money is used to keep certain free agents-to-be in Toronto (Scutaro and Barajas come to mind), it's good money to have. Also, the Jays might very well suspect that a contented Rios is a terrifying combination of talent and a lack of motivation to maximize that talent. We might very well have already seen the best of Rios. Certainly, a man who believes in personal responsibility, like Clarence Gaston, might not have the mind-set to beat a performance out of Rios. And Gaston's going to be here for awhile.

Not surprisingly, there's a consensus out there by baseball touts that trading Rios for a bag of baseballs was an outstanding move by the Toronto Blue Jays, even if it was the truth-challenged GM doing the deed. In fact, given the savings and acquisition of some prime pitching prospects in the Scott Rolen deal, you might even say J.P. Ricciardi is on a roll. And if this late-season willingness to take advantage of the largesse of other G.M.'s (Walt Jocketty and then Williams) lets him keep his job, then this will be very bad news for Toronto fans. (It also immediately hurts my Minnesota Twins' chances at winning the Central Division, which is bad news no matter what).

Bad news can also arrive in other ways. First, let's face it. Ozzie Guillen might just pull Rios' short hairs out through his esophagus if he doesn't put in enough effort in Chicago. Lacking only Concentration amongst the Three C's (Capability and Confidence), under Guillen, Rios could turn into the all-star centre-fielder the Pale Hose have been looking for. He'll shunt Scott Posednik to the sideline and play between Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye when the ChiSox have everybody healthy. And I think he might bat lead-off, which I had long bruited he should do to salvage this season in Toronto. He doesn't actually have to perform a heck of a lot better to earn eight figures.

Plus, the Blue Jays are now faced with the lure of pocketing the Rios Savings rather than trying to sign value for the money. Or they can let Ricciardi loose to spend the money. If his track record is any indication, that money will either go to fading stars who won't earn the money, or average major leaguers who will be a step down, a BIG step down, from Rios.

The consensus will be that this is a good deal for Toronto. Maybe. Maybe not. I think the jury's going to be out until next year. Maybe it's my distate for Ricciardi, but I've got the feeling this is going to look better for the White Sox than the Blue Jays down the road.

Friday, August 07, 2009

SOFTWARE: Suction, Simple and It Just Works

Software that does one thing, and that one thing really well, is a dying breed. I've seen all kinds of one-trick ponies that do that trick really, really well. But the programmer can't stand the onslaught of feature requests and sooner or later, that one-note piece of software is a thundering herd of mish-mashed together ideas that ceases to be nearly as good as the software was originally. (Careful now, I think I mixed three different metaphors in that paragraph).

At any rate, cheers to those that want to do something really well. Say DrNathan, who offers us Suction. Suction collapses a series of sub-folders into its parent, moving all of the files into that parent folder. Simple. Works. Works better for me after the author responded to a query of mine with incredible speed and completeness. And that's all it does.

Why is that important to me? Well, when I archive files onto a DVD, I like to print a file-listing to include in the disk jacket. A heck of a lot easier when all the files are in the root. But accomplishing that is mousing-heavy, since I took great care to put them in separate folders in the first place. Suction does it in two clicks. And I don't run into PowerDesk/ExplorerPlus's nasty habit of running afoul of file-locking, forcing me to unlock the files through Unlocker. It's all quite civilized.

I'll bet most of you don't need Suction. But if you do, then Suction is worth its weight in gold. 'Cept it's free. A useful free utility.

Friday, July 31, 2009

LIFE: "You're tags are expired."

The post below describes the joylessness of my experiences getting my car's licence sticker renewed. I point out that I'm more or less unenthused about getting pulled over driving with expired licence tags. That's because it happened to me once. As a passenger, but nonetheless, it wasn't fun.

Back in my more sociable days, I would occasionally do things because friends asked me to. Things I didn't want to do, and knew I SHOULDN'T do. I've put that niceness well behind me now, so I'm unlikely to fall into the trap again. Just so you should know.

It all started with the breaking up of a bridge partnership. I was playing, successfully, with a gent by the name of Wayne. Wayne had a small problem with alcohol, but sober, was one of the best young players in the country. I was slightly older and responsible for driving. Wayne had lost his licence. I found Wayne a dependable partner, except when he failed to show up or answer his door when being picked up. One last time, a club championship missed, and I told him the partnership was over. I didn't talk to him for the better part of a decade. (I'm legendary for holding grudges).

One of my other friends, the lady in a recently split-up relationship, eventually started seeing Wayne socially. She looked at me with those big sad eyes and pouty face and begged me to give Wayne another chance. Just for her. I KNEW it was wrong. But there was no saying no. I agreed to partner Wayne at the upcoming Canadian Nationals. The Good Friday Open Pairs. As an act of goodwill, Wayne volunteered to drive. He showed up the morning of the game driving his mother's car.

As it turns out, the magic that had been our partnership had disappeared. We turned in average sessions in the afternoon and then in the evening. It wasn't unpleasant, but the strained conversation was too much pressure to turn in a good performance. I wasn't at my best. And his rust showed. He wasn't anywhere near ready to play in a serious tournament. I tried. But I simply didn't enjoy the game. Ultimately, what was wrong was a reversal of playing postures. In the original partnership, I had been the aggressive player while Wayne had been the solid conservative one. In the intervening years, I had become the rock of most of my partnerships, letting my partners be the shooters. Two conservative players rarely succeed in tournament bridge.

Anxious to bring this experiment in taking one for a friend to an end (he had been inveigled into this as much as I was), we lit out right after the evening session and headed home. We just got off the highway south of Bramalea when flashing cherry lights in our rear window foretold of problems. The next 20 minutes were spent by Wayne weedling permission out of the policeman to allow him to drive me home and then go get the licence sticker for the car. The sticker was on top of the fridge at his mother's house. By the way, it had been on the fridge for FIVE MONTHS!!! Wayne was never anything other than personable in situations like this, even in his drinking days. The officer acquiesced.

Wayne apologized as he got into the car. I said nothing, seething. I was more mad at myself than anything else. The next three minutes were spent in silence, Wayne recognizing the opportunity to not foment any angry conversation. Three minutes? With my house ten minutes away? Yep. That's how long it took for ANOTHER POLICE UNIT to pull us over!! Took a half-hour this time for the latest member of the constabulary to check with the first one and verify the deal.

Once on our way, the silence was deafening. As we pulled into the driveway at my house, Wayne offered one word. Sorry. I nodded acceptance, got out of the car and haven't spoken to, or seen him, in 18 years.

Not that I'm counting.

LIFE: The DMV Was Met and Conquered

Over the years, I have had a hate-hate relationship with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

There was a time where my choices were to go to the provincial driver test centre at the corner of Steeles and Airport Road. T'was a zoo. So I drove 30-45 minutes north to Bolton where I could walk in and then out, ten minutes later. Better to sit in the car, burning gas, risking my life, than sit in the miasma of humanity at the testing centre.

Then, the DMV opened up a place on Steeles just around the corner from me. This should have been the start of something good. Right? No, not so much.

Let's just use the last four visits prior to this year as examples of why my trips to that nice little office in the strip plaza haven't worked out.

July 2003: I pull into the parking lot of the DMV and turn off the car. It rattles. It moans. And the air conditioning expires. Maybe not the DMV's fault, but little did I know how often this 'coincidence' would occur.

July 2005: I pull into the parking lot of the DMV and turn off the car. I try to take the key out of the ignition. This proves impossible. A relatively new acquisition (the old car of 2003 having expired), I find myself suddenly in need of a tow to my mechanic, who keeps the car for a week and then returns it with a new ignition block and some other stuff.

July 2007: I successfully park at the DMV AND leave the car seemingly in good order. However, I'm not in good working order, suffering in the throes of a bout of flu. Shouldn't have been anywhere near other humans, but it was the last day of the month and I had a disinclination to get pulled over for expired tags (another story to follow). So I bundled up and trundled to the place of my worst nightmares. I struggle up to the front when my number is called and complete the transaction. I then stumble out in front of the office, where my gold Saturn is parked. I apply the sticker to my rear licence plate and beep to unlock the driver-side door. It fails. I then notice, the gold Saturn I have applied the sticker to, is next to the gold Saturn I own. Side by side. I re-enter the DMV and go through the waiting process before finally getting the chance to tell my tale of woe. Costs me $100 bucks, $10 for each of two replacement stickers and $80 for the DMV to track down the owner of the other gold Saturn, who's new legal sticker I had 'replaced' with mine.

July 2008: I had used the one-year option the prior year, hoping to break my dismal double-year luck. Again, for the second time in a row, I successfully negotiated parking AND exiting the vehicle with it in one working piece. I go through the DMV line-up and proudly dump my paperwork in front of the bored clerk. She processes it and starts to give me my sticker, when she notices it was the extra copy of the 2007 paperwork I'd ended up with during my double-purchase of stickers. I must have looked like a crestfallen puppy. She took pity on me and sent me on my way. As it turns out, there MIGHT have been one piece of paper she didn't give back to me.

July 2009: I look high. I look low. I don't have my ownership slip to my car. It is SUPPOSED to be in the travel documents folder in the glove compartment box. It isn't. The insurance slip's there. I have the Licence renewal paperwork. But NO BLOODY PINK SLIP! It's now the last day of the month, not that this is unusual for my renewals. Technically due on my birthday, the fact is, giving the government money on time, let alone roughly on time, causes heart palpitations. And get this, the place I bought the car from no longer exists. It was a SATURN dealership. Thanks GM. Grrrrrrrrr! But Patrick does some research (he's been unusually calm and helpful lately) and discovers I can get a replacement pink slip for ten bucks and I can get it at the same time as I get the stickers.

And that's what happened. Waited in line, getting a seat almost immediately. Took 40 minutes start to finish, giving me time to read the first five chapters in Joe Haldeman's excellent The Accidental Time Machine. Lady who handled my business didn't even raise an eyebrow when I mentioned the need for both a pink slip and the sticker.

I'm no fool, although you couldn't prove it by this post. I know next year (it has to be next year, because I was prevented from re-upping for two years by the need next year of an emissions test) it'll be something else that will crop up. I'm already down to driving less than 3,000 kilometres a year and it won't take much to convince me to give up the car completely and taxi/rent from here on.

Say, like a trip to the DMV.

UPDATE: Yes, I know Pink slips are green (and the insurance slip is pink). But I'm old. I grew up in a time when car ownership papers were called pink slips. And now I'm too old to change habits. Punks!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

SPORTS: Bart Andrus ... Your ARE The MAN!

Bart Andrus is my newest hero.

Unlike just about every football man west of Bill Belichick, Andrus ain't taking any guff from fools like that buffoon Arland Bruce III. And today, the Toronto Argos can start figuring out which players will get to put a big hurt on Bruce when he returns for the Labour Day game with his new team, the Hamilton Tiger Cats. I say, why pick? Let's have a big pile-on every time the jerk touches the ball.

That I detest Bruce's antics is no big news. The Argos didn't have a single happy moment last year after Bruce pulled that self-aggrandizing Spiderman schtick after a touchdown against Hamilton. The twit seems to have caught OchoCinco disease here in T.O., what with the imminent arrival in T.O. by T.O his bad self. Good receivers all, lousy teammates and worse showmen. Self-deluded into thinking they are entertaining with their antics. And worse, they puff out their chests and claim privilege to act out. A pox on them all.

Football is the ultimate team game. There has NEVER been a Bruce touchdown that was completely and utterly his own work. The quarterback (Kerry Joseph, the one he tried to sideline last year in favour of Bruce best pal Mike Bishop) had to get him the ball. The quarterback needed some time to do so, so let's credit the faceless giants along the offensive line. And it occasionally requires an upfield block or two from Bruce's fellow receivers. AND I've seen a running back make a block on a blitzer a time or two in my life. No, Bruce doesn't get it. HE didn't score the touchdown, the TEAM did!

Joe Paterno once opined that a touchdown scorer should act like they'd done it before. That would look cool (in the parlance of the folks who use it that way). I believe in that. Acting like a crazed moron trying out for America's Got Talent ... comedic acting category ... has no place on the football field.

Now Bruce's a Ti-Cat. Let the hate flow. Feels good, doesn't it?